The jury system is not unique to America, but it is an essential part of this country's justice system: The right to be tried by a jury of one's peers. But as much as Americans admire their jury system, many would prefer not to be called for jury duty. Jury duty involves going to court when summoned and being prepared to serve on a trial, if selected.
Given that some trials can take weeks or months, and the pay provided is low, a session as a trial juror can definitely disrupt one's normal life. And some people have valid excuses for getting out of serving on a jury.
Who Gets Summoned for Jury Duty?
States have different systems of putting together lists of potential jurors, known as the jury pool. They are usually compiled from voter registration lists and driver's license lists. The court uses a random method of selecting individuals from the jury pool.
Most courts screen the list of potential jurors to remove unqualified people or those who are not eligible to serve as jurors under state law. Generally jurors must be 18 years or older, American citizens and understand English. They must not be felons. Individuals who have already served in the past few years as a trial juror or on a grand jury are usually eliminated.
Traditionally, large groups of people were exempted from jury duty because the lawmakers considered their jobs too important, including elected officials, law enforcement and the military. But these days, there are fewer automatic exemptions.
Who Gets Excused From Jury Duty?
Court districts develop rules about who can be excused from jury duty. The lists vary, but they tend to fall into a few categories that include medical reasons, economic hardship and family issues.
Medical reasons can include current, ongoing medical issues, such as receiving chemotherapy for cancer. An individual might also be excused if a medical condition leaves her unable to easily maneuver physically, like a quadriplegic. Mental issues, like anxiety and depression, might also be valid reasons for a person to be excused from jury duty.
Economic hardship is easy to understand. A sole proprietor or someone in the gig economy will be without income for the duration of jury duty. Likewise, a full-time college student will not be able to afford to invest a week away from her studies. Finally, family matters, like being pregnant or nursing a small baby, or caretaking an ill and aging parent can be good cause to be excused.
How to Get Excused From Jury Duty?
If a person gets a jury summons in the mail, he should sit down and read it through carefully. The letter states where and when he must report for jury duty and also mentions exemptions and valid excuses. Finally, it advises prospective jurors on how to ask the court to excuse them from jury duty or to defer their jury service.
In yesteryear, the person summoned would sit down and write a letter to the judge setting out his situation. But the world is increasingly technological, and it is more likely the prospective juror will be directed to some form of online communication. Whatever procedure the summons letter provides is the one the individual should use.
Communicating to the Court About Jury Duty
Anyone asking the court to be excused from jury duty should set out his situation clearly and directly. No legalese is required, nor any particular form. She should simply and succinctly state that serving on a jury would be very difficult for her and explain why.
If it would be a financial hardship, state why that is the case. If she has medical issues, describe them. She should avoid anything flowery or long-winded, since this makes the excuse appear phony.
Read More: How to Defer Jury Duty
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. 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 M.A. and an M.F.A in creative 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.