The Texas Judicial Council sends out a jury summons to those residents who meet the requirements. These citizens are registered voters who have a driver's license or state-issued ID card. Several legal disqualifying factors allow individuals to remove themselves from jury service, but they must prove to the court before removal that they qualify for an exemption.
How Texas Courts Look for Jurors
Texas counties get a list of possible jurors from the Secretary of State's office. These are people who are registered voters and have a Texas driver's license or state-issued ID cards. Qualified citizens are randomly selected and mailed a jury summons. Some Texas counties mail questionnaires to prospective jurors to determine their eligibility before sending out the summons, while others will mail the questionnaire and summons at the same time.
A potential juror can return the completed questionnaire by mail or bring it to court when they report for jury duty. Some Texas counties participate in I-Jury Online Impaneling, which gives jurors who have access to the Internet the ability to respond online to the summons and submit any scheduling conflicts they may have.
Requirements for Texas Jurors
Anyone facing criminal charges in the United States has the Constitutional right to a trial by a "jury of their peers." Texas courts select potential jurors from the local population who meet certain requirements. Jurors must be:
- Over 18 years of age.
- A citizen of the United States.
- Texas residents and a resident of the county requesting the juror.
- Qualified to vote in the county where they will serve.
- Well-balanced with good moral character.
- Able to understand, read and write in English.
- Not have a misdemeanor theft or a felony conviction, or be convicted of, or under indictment for, misdemeanor theft or a felony.
Failing to appear for jury selection or duty can result in severe penalties. A person who does not answer a jury summons faces a fine between $100 and $1,000. Jurors who don't show up for their court date or make a false claim of exemption can see penalties between $100 and $500.
Legal Reasons for Getting Out of Jury Duty
While Texas citizens have a civic duty to serve on a jury when summoned, they can use some excuses to legally get out of jury selection or duty, or to receive a deferral. If a person qualifies for one of these legal exemptions, they can respond to the summons with a note that contains proof of their excuse, and, if accepted, they will not have to report for jury selection.
These are legal reasons for getting out of jury duty in the state of Texas:
- Age: Texas allows people over the age of 70 to avoid jury service. These citizens can request a permanent disqualification from jury selection.
- Disability: A person who has a physical or mental impairment can avoid jury service. People who can't communicate or comprehend English may also be temporarily or permanently exempt.
- Being in the Military: If a potential juror is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, is on active duty and is deployed to a location away from their county of residence, they can claim an exemption.
- Being an Elected Official: A prospective juror who works for the state senate, the house of representatives or any board, commission, department, office or agency in the legislative branch can claim an exemption.
- Being a Student: If the prospective juror currently attends a public or private secondary school or is enrolled in, or attending, an institution of higher education, they may claim an exemption.
Additional Jury Exemptions
Additional exemptions also apply to potential jurors:
- Who have legal custody of children under 12, and serving on a jury panel would require them to leave the children without supervision.
- Who are the primary caretaker of a person who cannot care for themselves.
- Whose summoning date falls on a holy day observed by the juror; they may be released from jury duty or rescheduled.
Potential jurors who have a legal excuse not to serve must contact the summoning court directly with proof of the excuse, which they swear to in front of a judge. The court will release the juror from service or reschedule the juror at their discretion.
Having a job alone isn't good enough to avoid jury service, but some courts may excuse individuals from serving if missing work would cause undue hardship to themselves or to their employer. Jurors cannot be excused from jury duty for economic reasons unless all parties of record are present and approve the release. Texas does not allow employers to penalize prospective jurors for missing work due to jury service.
Asking for an Exemption by Letter
A person who does not qualify for any exemptions, but believes that serving jury duty would cause them undue hardship can submit a letter to the court asking for an exemption. The decision to excuse the potential juror is, once again, at the court's discretion.
An individual's initial summons is only for attendance on the first day of jury selection. Then the court decides if they will actually serve on a jury. There is a good chance they will not be chosen for jury duty, and if not, their obligation to the court is over until the next time they receive a summons. The court pays those who serve on a jury between $6 and $50 per day, but can reduce or eliminate the compensation for those who come to court for one day, but never serve on a jury.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.