How can I get out of jury duty?

Ah, how the Internet brings out honesty. The Grand Rapids Press column “Law Talk” invites readers to ask legal questions and get helpful advice. A reader recently asked the brazen question, “How do I get out of jury duty?”

Here, we comment on the reply by the Law Talk-er (Barton Deiters):

Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan points out that jury duty is virtually the only expectation of service put upon citizens since the military draft was abolished in

True, depending on how you slice it. Paying taxes counts in some tallies. And though voting is not compulsory, our interviews in The Jury & Democracy found that voting was one of the civic duties to which jurors liked to compare their service at the courthouse.

But, if people have medical appointments, out-of-town vacations, loved ones to care for or have a legitimate rationale, judges will work to accommodate. Also anyone older than 70 or has been convicted of a felony crime can be automatically excluded. Also, no one in Kent County is supposed to serve on a jury more than once a year.

All quite true, and judges generally seek to assemble pools of willing and able jurors. They only play hard-ball when they sense that someone’s just “trying to get out” for their own personal convenience.

“We don’t want to make it more of a burden than it has to be,” Sullivan said.

Also true, as courts across the U.S. have changed jury duty rules to make it easier of prospective jurors.

Most trials last no longer than a week and often are done only between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. letting people get home or back to work.

Surprising that the jurors have to scram at 1pm, but maybe that’s why trials apparently often last a week in this jurisdiction. In the ones we studied, a typical trial was just two days or at least less than a full week.

Sullivan says attitude goes a long way. He says there are three kinds of reactions to serving on a jury, there are people who look forward to it, there are people will do whatever it takes to weasel out of it and there is the largest group that understands that while it is something of an intrusion, it is a requirement.

We would only hope that Sullivan and others would say explicitly that jury duty is more than a “requirement.” It is a unique opportunity to participate in self-government. A democracy run by the people, for the people, includes many such opportunities. This one happens to be compulsory, but it remains a chance for people to exercise a measure of control over their government and society and to educate themselves as citizens.

The final disappointment is that the Law Talk column didn’t include this clip from 30 Rock. We love you, Tina Fey. But sorry, we still want you on our jury, should we ever run afoul of the law.



About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Public/media views of juries, Summoning juries, Voir dire and jury selection. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How can I get out of jury duty?

  1. Fred Ward says:

    The justice system is a game, and getting out of jury duty in NSW is a sport. The whole system is broken. Judges get lifetime appointments and are not investigated or accountable for stupid decisions. Sentences are out of touch with community standards. Evidence is “withheld” from juries for being too prejudicial, even though it is relevant. There is no search for the truth, and the rich get better results because they can afford better lawyers. Overall, the whole court system is a game. This clip pretty well sums up how the system has failed everyone except the lawyers

  2. jgastil says:

    That’s a pretty brutal assessment. Having not seen a court in NSW, I can only hope it’s not quite as bad as you say. One of the points of the Jury & Dem project is to empower prospective jurors to resist arbitrary dismissal. That is, if juries really have an honest cross-section of the public, there’s a stronger, more authentic public voice in the jury system. Better lawyers certainly help; that’s why people pay for them. But at least in the US, even the best lawyers can’t always sway a skeptical jury; juries have delivered guilty verdicts against many well-off defendants and have found not guilty many poor people wrongly accused of heinous crimes.

  3. Matthew Chiglinsky says:

    Jury “duty” may be some sort of civic duty, but the greater duty is to stand up for individual freedom. The government should not be able to force its citizens into service. Jury duty is basically a temporary job that pays ridiculously-low, slave wages.

    Everyone should refuse involuntary jury duty. If the government needs jurors, let them hire people voluntarily full-time or part-time, like a normal job, and pay a decent wage (at least minimum wage) as well.

    I don’t care what the “law” says about jury “duty”. The law is wrong.

  4. jgastil says:

    Matt: I see that your blog is concerned with opposing tyranny. What would you propose to be a less tyrannical system of resolving legal disputes than the use of the jury system? Wouldn’t the exclusive reliance on judges be more likely to concentrate the power of the state? Look at the history of the jury; it was momentous when the jury broke away from the crown and established its independence–the people self-governing and deciding the fates of the accused.

    Yeah, it doesn’t pay well, but that’s true of a lot of good things we do in the name of freedom, democracy, and justice.

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