Thursday, September 22, 2011

So You Want to Avoid Jury Duty?

I'm sticking with my jury selection theme this week.

Whenever I meet someone and they ask what I do for a living, one of two things inevitably happens. They either ask my legal opinion on an issue plaguing their life or they ask how to get out of jury duty.

As a trial lawyer, my conscience won't allow me to give out the top secret hints to avoid jury duty and as a prosecutor most times I lack the expertise in civil law to answer the legal question. I know what you're thinking - I'm a riot at cocktail parties. Before you judge, let me explain. In my experience, the people who are actively seeking to avoid jury duty would make the best jurors.

If you were accused of a crime and had decided to take it to trial, would you want rational and reasonable people thinking up excuses to avoid hearing the evidence against you? The system functions most effectively when twelve of our best citizens sit in a room and debate the evidence presented to determine if the defendant committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Often the prospective jurors seeking to avoid service are those in a position of great responsibility at a job or at home who are required to evaluate credibility on a daily basis. What better jurors are there?

Those people who are creative enough to think of reasons to avoid the supposed inconvenience could instead use their abilities on a jury. It is frustrating as an attorney to watch juror after potential juror seek the court's permission to avoid serving. In every trial, I watch the judge agree to make tremendous scheduling accommodations which would address a juror's concern (be it work, childcare, doctor's appointments) only to watch as other reasons are then proffered until the judge relents and lets the person out of serving.

Before you consider trying to avoid jury duty because it's inconvenient, please think about whether you would want someone like you as a juror if you were on trial. If not, just raise your hand and we'll get you out of there.

One judge I know says this to jurors: There are only four times you are called to serve your country - 1) voting, 2) military duty, 3) pay taxes, and 4) jury service. Jury service is the best forum for a person to actually participate in the government system as a citizen. He says it is a privilege as well as a right of all citizens. I couldn't agree more.

There are many reasons that one cannot serve on a jury - family responsibilities, already paid-for trips, health reasons, and financial hardships. Speaking as a trial lawyer, please just consider whether your reason is really a hardship or simply an excuse to avoid an inconvenience. A right to a jury trial that is guaranteed to all under the Constitution cannot function without willing jurors.

By the way, are you wondering the best excuse I've heard yet? It was during an attempted murder trial and we were questioning jurors who have issues with serving individually in the jury room before doing group questioning of a panel.

Judge: Do you have an issue with serving on the jury?
Prospective Juror: Yes. I've got health problems.
Judge: Sorry to hear that. We just need to put them on the record. Can you tell us what they are
Prospective Juror: I can't hear out of one ear.
Judge: Which one?
Prospective Juror: I don't know.
She was excused for other reasons aside from health problems.


  1. That example is hilarious. I think you are so right about the people who are most looking to get out of it making the best jurors. It really is a shame that so many people try so hard to get out of it. I think it is such an important duty and from personal experience (as family of a murder victim) the jury you end up with can be a source of great frustration!

  2. I find the lawyers that comment about jurors and the jury selection process to be quite smug and condescending. Psychoanalyzing and criticizing citizens who are compelled to attend jury selection and herded like cattle through the process is distasteful to say the least. The main issue I see is the deterioration of the inner cities and the rampant crime that goes on, people are contacted too frequently with juror summons, its relentless. Also, In many cities where these courthouses are located its too dangerous to ride and park yourself, the sheriff has to bus people from a more neutral location into the city. Its become such a hassle to serve and not to mention who wants to be involved in this this corrupt system that is our legal process? Things need to change but there is too much money to be made and the attorneys are the pigs at the trough.