Asking the court to change the date for your jury duty is a lot easier than trying to avoid it altogether. Court systems realize that people make plans in advance, and that sometimes it just wouldn't be equitable to require jurors to alter those plans. The showing you must make to defer jury duty varies among courts, but many allow you a first-time deferral as a matter of right.
Obligation to Serve on a Jury
Most things that are classified as civil duties or obligations of citizenship aren't easy or pleasant. Paying taxes is a good example. Nobody wants to pay taxes, but most Americans do. That's because it is understood that the country needs income taxes to pay for the services it provides its citizens, and because of the penalties for those who don't comply.
A classic example of an obligation of citizenship is jury duty. In criminal law, all Americans have the constitutional right to have their cases determined by a jury of their peers; in civil cases, you have the right to a jury unless you waived it by contract. In either case, individuals are needed to serve on juries.
Few are thrilled to see that jury summons arrive in the mail, however. It is inconvenient to take time from a busy schedule to go to the courthouse and wait around to be questioned by lawyers, then chosen – or not – for disputes that don't involve you. Yet this country's system of justice depends upon its citizens stepping up when called to serve, and fines or jail sentences await those who ignore a jury summons.
Inconvenience of Jury Duty
The list of reasons why jury duty may be inconvenient is very long. One frequently mentioned is a job conflict. Although the law requires an employer to release an employee for jury duty without penalty, that still doesn't make it easy. The self-employed have no income coverage when called to jury duty, and if you're hourly, missing a day of work can hurt (although most courts pay a nominal fee to each person who appears). You can ask the court to excuse you by appearing and documenting your situation, but courts expect citizens to suffer some inconvenience to fulfill their duties.
In some circumstances, jury duty seems exceptionally inconvenient, even for employees who will continue to get their salaries, like when you have an important overseas business trip scheduled the very week you are supposed to be in the jury room. Or maybe it's the week of your child's wedding, a surgery or a long-awaited family vacation. Courts deal with temporary inconveniences like these by granting deferments.
Read More: Valid Excuses to Get Out of Jury Duty
Deferring Jury Duty
At certain times, serving on a jury may be so inconvenient as to be unfair to the prospective juror. To that end, courts have established procedures allowing prospective jurors to defer jury service temporarily. And they make it easy. In many state and federal courts, you can opt to defer jury duty one time simply by rescheduling it.
For example, in California's Calaveras County Superior Court, you can postpone jury duty for up to 60 days simply by calling in to an automated phone line or going online to set a new date. In Florida's Brevard County, any prospective juror is entitled to a one-time deferment of service up to 90 days just by requesting it. And in Massachusetts, you have the right to postpone your jury service to any day within 12 months of your original service date for any reason. You can do this online, by mail or by phone.
The procedure for deferment of jury duty is different in every jurisdiction, including how to advise the court and the time limit for doing so. Read your jury summons for more information or call the Office of Jury Commissioner.
Even if you're not entitled to a deferment automatically, you may be able to excuse yourself from jury duty if you have a doctor's note explaining why you're not fit to serve, or if you have a pre-paid vacation. You might even be excused if you have school or a work function. Check all the documents you receive with your summons to find out ways you can be excused and how to seek an excusal.
Most states are quite lenient in allowing a prospective juror to defer jury service one time, requiring little or nothing in the way of proof of a schedule conflict. Check your jury duty form or call the court to be sure you make your deferment request according to required procedures.
- Courts are notorious for turning down requests to be excused. What you think is a good reason may not be good enough in the eyes of the judge, so be realistic. Unless your excuse is found to be valid, chances are your request will be turned down.
- There are a few legitimate reasons for being disqualified completely from jury duty. Check with your county or state court system for a list of these.
- States and counties have individual laws regarding penalties for not appearing in court if you have been sent a jury summons. If you are thinking of ignoring your summons, be aware of the consequences.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.