Jury Duty – two of the most dreaded and joked about words known to modern man. It’s been said when you go to court, you are trusting your fate to 12 people that weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty. A sobering thought, I would think, for both sides of the table.
When my summons came in the mail, I must admit, my first instinct was to find a way out. Did I really have to go? What if I didn’t? Were there penalties? Everyone I knew just tossed their notices in the trash. Besides, they wouldn’t arrest me, would they? That’s just something you grow up believing, like staring into an eclipse will blind you.
So, just who will get called and how is a jury selected? Where I live, in an effort to achieve a higher level of participation, the courts switched their database from voter registration to driver’s license rolls in 1998, with hopes to bring in a larger group. Unfortunately, the percentage has dropped close to 20% bringing it well under half. In fact, approximately two out of the three people that are summoned each year in South Florida never show. In order to get 1,000 jurors, 3,500 people need to be summoned!
So can you get out of it? The law states you may not serve:
– If you are not a legal resident of your county.
– If you are not a citizen of the United States
– If you’ve been convicted of a felony and civil rights have not been restored
– If you are currently under criminal prosecution.
(So I’m thinking the severely over-due library book that I inadvertently dropped in the pool so it swelled to 5 times its normal size and therefore didn’t fit in the after-hours return slot doesn’t qualify?)
And you may choose not to serve:
– If you are 70 or older
– Responsible for the care of a person who is medically or mentally incapacitated and is incapable of caring for themselves.
– If you are an expectant mother.
– If you are a parent not working full time with custody of a child under 6.
– If you are a full-time law enforcement officer or investigative personnel.
– If you were summoned and reported for jury service in your county within 1 year from the date for which summoned.
Comedian Shayne Michael, known to have a top ten list for just about everything, expanded his ways to get out of Jury Duty list to fifty. Here are some I can share with you:
* Say you’re breastfeeding and offer to demonstrate on another juror.
* Ask if you can wear a Walkman during the trial.
* Show up wearing a wedding dress.
* Wear 3-D glasses.
* Bring your pet hamster to court.
* Keep winking at the defense lawyers.
* Look at the defendant and say, “Bet you wish you hadn’t dumped me now.”
Would I be penalized if I just don’t show up? Failure to appear can place you in contempt of court which is punishable by a monetary fine and up to six months in jail. That said, where I live as in most of the country, the prosecution would prove too time-consuming and costly to pursue. There are places, such as Brooklyn, NY, that are more diligent in tracking their potential jurors down; so do your research before you purge.
The reason I sat there, in that cavernous room; with the diverse crowd ranging from eager to put-out, some looking as though they had just rolled out of bed while others dressed for work glancing at watches and cell phones, had nothing to do with the $15.00 a day they offered or the fear of contempt. In truth, I happen to be married to a combo platter of Jiminy Cricket and Dudley Do-Right. While he himself has dutifully served numerous times, to ensure the attendance he drove, escorted me to the door, and took the dog for periodic walks. (Of course, my blinding fear of bridges and parking garages combined with my zero sense of direction also played into it.)
By mid-day, I found myself in a smaller room, a courtroom, for the all-important selection process. Before a judge, the prosecution and defense attorneys, I listened to some of the flimsiest excuses for escape. Basically – at that point, if you weren’t in possession of a doctor’s note, a lawyer’s letter, or a broom from a witch – the decision was out of your hands.
Through the long day, the hours of questioning and listening, I was treated kindly and with respect. In the end, I learned there are certain professions that are discounted immediately for selection, such as police officers with arresting abilities; and certain professions they prefer to be gone rather quickly – like writers. I can only wonder why.
Have a comment? Feel free to let me know.
From The Point Always, Lori Flynn