Everyone knows that a trial before a jury of your peers is a fundamental right in this country. Anyone accused of a crime and also many who are heading to civil trials want a neutral jury to hear their cases. But very few people like to serve as jurors. It's inconvenient and gets in the way of your ordinary life, especially if you're self-employed.
Can you get out of jury duty? Perhaps, but simply being self-employed won't provide a surefire excuse.
Who Gets Excused From Jury Duty?
States make their own laws about jury duty, who gets called and who gets excused. Federal law applies to federal courts, and jury requirements and rules are not identical with state laws. But all jurisdictions allow a person summoned for jury duty to be excused in certain circumstances, many of which are similar across court systems.
You must be a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old and a resident of the jurisdiction in which you are called to serve on a jury in order to serve as a juror. You must understand English well enough to follow a trial. If you do not qualify, you cannot serve on a jury.
Those working as police officers and active military service personnel don't have to serve on juries, and many states exempt people over a certain age from mandatory service. Those with mental or physical disabilities can also be excused. Although states might provide for other exemptions, the general rule is that you must show that serving as a juror will be an extreme hardship to qualify for jury duty exemption based on self-employment.
Jury Duty for the Self-Employed
Although jurors are paid daily stipends in many states, the amounts are small. For example, California offers jurors $15 a day starting from the second day of service. This might buy lunch, but it won't compensate for lost pay or child care expenses if you have kids at home. Some states, like Connecticut, reimburse you up to $50 a day for child care expenses, but others do not.
Employers are required to let employees go to jury duty and still get paid their normal wages to make it easier for jurors to serve. This makes jury duty easier financially. But those who are self-employed don't get wages, which means that they might suffer financially from having to take time off to serve. Any self-employed person without savings might have difficulty taking time off of work because his income source is suddenly cut off. Yet there's no automatic exemption for the self-employed.
Proving Financial Hardship
You'll have to show the court that appearing and serving on a jury would be an extreme financial hardship if you're self-employed and want to be excused. This might be easier to do than it sounds – or harder, depending on your circumstances.
Income has a lot to do with this. If you're self-employed with a low income and you provide the sole income for your family, the court is more likely to decide that it would be a severe hardship for you to serve on a jury. But if you're the owner of a start-up tech firm that's just about to go public, you're likely to have a harder time. Neither the inconvenience of being away from work nor a loss of discretionary income is likely to get you off jury duty.
Follow Your State's Procedure
If you do feel that you can prove a serious hardship, be sure to follow court rules and procedures for raising the issue early. In some states, you can fill in a form electronically before the first day you must appear for duty. In others, you must write a self-employed jury duty excuse letter or show up and make your argument in person to the judge.
Don't simply fail to show up. If you do, you might find yourself in serious trouble. You can be fined or held in contempt of court, and a bench warrant can be issued for your arrest.