The process for serving on a jury often begins with a letter in your mailbox from a local court system's clerk. This is the first shot the court system fires across the civil service bow, called a "jury duty summons". This document should inform you of a specific time to appear at a designated location in the courthouse building.
At this point, you may still have a few weeks to plead your case for a release from jury service to the court clerk. You may be able to prove what a professional or personal burden serving on a jury would be, and the clerk may release you from the obligation or agree to change your jury summons to a later date. You are still obligated to appear for jury consideration at some point, however.
Even if you cannot get released from your jury duty summons, you may not be selected to serve on a jury once you arrive at the courthouse. Attorneys have the right to strike a number of potential jurors for any reason or no reason at all. If you are selected to serve on a jury, however, you will be given a specific date to reappear in court, and most people do not forget to report for jury duty once it reaches this stage. You and the other selected jurors have now become vital parts of the legal process, and the judge, prosecutors, and defense attorneys all expect your complete and undivided attention.
So what would happen if you do forget to report for jury duty? The answer can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the universal consensus is that you are not going to like it. If you forget to report for jury duty, the judge may view your absence as contempt of court. While the court may appoint an alternative to serve on the jury, you are not off the hook legally. A summons may be issued to force you to appear before the court and provide an explanation for your absence. Depending on the circumstances, you may be required to serve on another jury or even fined for contempt. These fines may be substantial, so it pays not to forget to report for jury duty if at all possible.
Many court cases are settled before a jury is ever formally struck, and even those that reach the court rarely last more than a week or so. A juror usually receives a nominal payment for his or her services, and employers cannot punish employees for serving on a jury. Considering the financial and legal consequences if you should forget to report for jury duty, it may be best to bring a book or two to pass the time between sessions and just allow the legal process to unfold on schedule. In many jurisdictions, a citizen cannot be selected for jury duty again for a specific number of years, so you may not have to serve on another jury for the rest of your adult life.
What Happens If You Don't Show Up for Jury Duty?
While it may seem like there will be little consequence if you ditch jury duty by ignoring the summons, do so at your own peril. Jury duty is one of the few constitutionally-required responsibilities of all Americans age 18 and older. Just like paying taxes, you are required to comply, and real penalties arise from noncompliance.
Summons for Another Trial
The first likely consequence is that the county clerk will issue you a new summons for another trial date within the next week or two. If you missed the first call to report, absolutely do not miss the second, because the consequences only escalate from here. At the very least, call or write to the court clerk's office and explain the situation.
Fines, Arrest and Jail Time
If you fail to appear a second time and do not communicate with the clerk about your situation, the court may hold you in contempt, which can result in a large fine. A judge may also issue a bench warrant for your arrest. In this scenario, a law enforcement officer will look up your address and pay you a visit. The officer may then take you into custody and require you to appear before the judge.
What Are the Advantages of Serving on a Jury?
While some of us are naturally attuned to the personal benefits of volunteering and giving back to the community, others may see the jury experience as a way to learn about the legal system from the inside, up close and personal. Whether you are eager to take on your responsibilities as a citizen or are entering the jury pool as a learner, the advantages of serving are numerous.
Most of us do not live in the state capitol or know an elected official. Usually, we simply do our best to vote, pay taxes and let the decision-makers do their job on our behalf. But jury duty is an exciting, rare chance to use your individual power as a citizen to contribute to the greater good. Before the jury system was developed, all legal decisions were made by a handful of aristocrats, landowners and figureheads. Now, each of us is empowered with the responsibility to make sound, rational, humane decisions on behalf of others.
Learn About the Legal System
There is nothing like being there. The novelty of the jury experience is worth the hassle and disruption to your routine. You will learn about legal strategies, what types of attorneys make the best arguments and personality traits that work for or against a witness, not to mention being a real, live character in a legitimate courtroom drama. Plus, you get to see all the things they don't show you on TV — truly a behind-the-scenes immersion into a major aspect of our government. Finally, if you or a friend ever find yourselves in legal trouble, you'll have received a free, high-quality education by taking the time to be a juror.
Will Jury Duty Impact My Job?
The short answer is yes, but exactly how much impact depends on the type of trial for which you are summoned. Some trials are resolved relatively quickly, while others take time to reach a unanimous verdict. Consider making a special arrangement with your supervisors if you end up on a trial that will likely last longer than one week.
Some trials only last a day or two. These trials usually involve lower-level crimes such as simple assault (people getting into fights), petty theft and driving under the influence with no violent result. These cases usually wrap up within one week, with limited impact on your work schedule.
There is no way to know what cases are on the docket when you are summoned. If you are called for a major felony case such as rape, murder, extortion or burglary, these trials can last weeks or months. Complex cases with high-stakes outcomes include expert testimony and dozens of witnesses for both the prosecution and defense. Not only this, but each legal team may have strategies to delay or change the proceedings. Also keep in mind that once the trial itself comes to a close, the deliberation process can also last for days because of the immense amount of testimony and evidence. While you will be modestly compensated for each day served, during long-term trials, you may need to ensure that your employer will hold your position until your service is concluded.