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Jury summonses

What happens if you don't show up for jury duty? What to expect if it happens to you.

Clare Mulroy

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Jury duty is one of the rare opportunities when U.S. citizens can make a tangible impact in the judicial process, but many see it as more of a hassle than a privilege. According to market researcher YouGov, 70% of Americans see jury duty as an important civic duty, though 7% said they’ve lied to get out of it. 

Here’s what you need to know if you’ve been summoned to the juror’s box.

What is jury duty?

Jury duty is the service U.S. citizens perform that allows them to participate in the judicial process – working with a judge to find the facts in the case based on information presented during proceedings.

Jurors are selected randomly from a list of voters or registered drivers. They are U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old, proficient in English and have resided in the district or county for at least a year. Qualified jurors also must not be convicted of or charged with a felony and must not have disqualifying mental or physical conditions, the website for the U.S. Courts states. 

These individuals are exempt from jury duty:

  • Active duty armed forces
  • Professional firefighters or police officers
  • Active public officers of federal, state or local government

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What happens if you miss jury duty?

Jury duty is mandatory – there are penalties for ditching, but the specific consequences depend on the type of court and the state you live in. Each court will have different guidelines. If you’ve been summoned as a federal juror, you can use the U.S. Court website’s “Federal Court Finder” to find your court’s specific rules.

If you miss jury duty, you’ll generally be contacted by the court and asked to appear before a judge to explain your absence. You’ll also likely be assigned a new date for jury service.

There are fines for missing jury duty but beware of scammers charging you over the phone. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, fines will only be imposed after the individual explains their failure to appear to a judge. Federal courts will never ask for immediate payment over the phone or through money wire services. 

Missing jury duty is not a light issue and you should resolve it with the court quickly. If you don’t appear in court, you may be issued a criminal complaint or a warrant for your arrest.

How to get out of jury duty

Just because you’ve been summoned doesn’t mean you’ll serve. The judge and attorneys will ask potential jurors questions to determine whether they’re well-suited for the case. 

Here are a few common reasons jurors are dismissed:

  • They know a person involved in the case
  • They have information about the case
  • They have strong prejudices about the people or issues involved

Aside from that, there are a few valid excuses you may be able to use to get out:

  • Individuals over 70
  • Individuals who have served on a similar court within the past two years
  • Individuals who serve as volunteer firefighters, rescue squads or ambulance crew
  • Individuals experiencing “undue hardship or extreme inconvenience” during the time of their service

You may also be able to get out of jury duty if you have a mental or physical disability that prevents you from serving, though you’ll likely need an official doctor’s note stating the reasons why you can’t serve. 

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