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.