If you’re a person who has ever received a jury summons, you’re probably also a person who’s tried to get out of that summons. Maybe you delayed for a few months until you could think up a good excuse. Or maybe you turned up as requested, but during selection, dramatically confessed that you could never be an impartial juror and got yourself out of it. Whatever the case, we’re all summoned to serve eventually — but only some of us know the guaranteed best way to deal with it. When it comes to how to get out of jury duty, the only word you need to remember is:
Don’t get out of jury duty.
You’re right that it's annoying.
The number one reason your average American doesn’t want to serve as a juror is that it’s a hassle, plain and simple.
After getting your jury summons, you have to show up in an unfamiliar location which probably has frustratingly confusing signage go through eight security checkpoints because it’s a government building, sit in a crowded room with people of all different stations — some of whom do not smell particularly pleasant or smile at you — and watch an incredibly boring video about "The Rules" — or, worse, listen to an incredibly boring real-life person read you "The Rules" — until it’s time for jury duty to begin in earnest.
That’s the time when they give every potential juror a number, and you’re a prisoner until your number is called. At that point, you get to go be a prisoner somewhere else and wait for the next selection process. You can’t get coffee when you want to. You can’t show up at 10 a.m. as you do at your actual job. You can’t pop out to grab a croissant or a salad; you just have to sit there, bored on your phone or reading a book, eating whatever they have in the vending machine and just generally being annoyed with how this day is going.
If you're selected to serve on a trial, you could be there for days or even weeks, depending on the case.
And all of that is lame.
But let's keep things in perspective.
Your being a prisoner in the ugly courthouse waiting room is not the same as being a prisoner in an actual jail, awaiting a trial by jury, or as bad as being out on bail and awaiting trial or even as bad as trying to go about your everyday life while embroiled in a civil battle. It’s not as bad as paying tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees or as having the rest of your life decided by which lawyers you can (or can’t) afford, or whether you draw a sympathetic judge or a hostile one.
A trial — even a civil trial — can be and often is a defining moment in a person’s life. Before you even come to the sentencing, you have the trauma of bearing witness or reliving an experience, whether of something done to you or something that you did; the guilt of getting your family involved; the shame of taking out loans to pay for the whole thing or of having to be vulnerable in front of community members, coworkers or even your children.
I once served on a medical malpractice case in which a middle-aged man’s prostate had been permanently damaged during a procedure that was supposed to pre-empt problems. As a result, that man had to wear a catheter for the rest of his life — somewhere around 30 years at the least — and would probably never be able to have sex again. He wept on the stand. His wife wept in the court and eventually had to get up and leave. The doctor accused of malpractice had to watch it all.
For the couple, the trial might bring some sort of closure and get them back on their feet financially after all the medical bills and his being out of work for months and the lawyer’s fees. And the doctor could lose his license. In a criminal trial, the defendant might wind up in jail for years, or they might not be convicted for lack of evidence and get the opportunity to hurt someone else. All of these are serious, life-altering circumstances, and jury duty deserves to be considered for what it means to those people — the people who’ll be affected by it for the rest of their lives, not just for what it means to you, who’ll most likely be affected for a few days, before picking up right where you left off with your own normal life.
That’s my idea of a jury duty joke: It sounds like something Lenny would say about a suspect on Law and Order, but when I say it, I’m looking at all of you potential jurors out there who’ve “gotten out of” jury duty in the past or who are contemplating doing it whenever your time comes.
What I mean is: If you can’t do one of the only things required of you as a United States citizen, then you shouldn’t be out there enjoying the freedom to say and do what you please all day long. Citizens of some countries are required to perform military service and jailed if they refuse. Citizens of others can be imprisoned for years for speaking ill of their monarch.
We aren’t subject to any of that here and we shouldn’t be, but as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With freedom comes responsibility.” Maybe it’s the result of living in a capitalistic society where corporations are people, and where the corporate bottom line is all-important and justifies terrible working conditions and paying people less than a living wage, but whatever the reason, we’ve lost the idea of “giving back,” of “citizenship” — the understanding that we are each a small part of a whole and that we have a responsibility to fulfill that role.
We talked about how your jury service could change the lives of everyone involved in your specific court case, but what about the effect you could have the world in general? Think back on all the trials that have deeply affected American culture: the Rodney King acquittals that touched off the LA riots. The OJ Simpson trial. The George Zimmerman trial. Before those cases even got to court, race was an enormous factor — and it continued to be a factor in many of the court’s decisions.
Now, imagine that you could have stood in defiance of prejudice on those juries. Imagine that you could have been the Henry Fonda of your case, interrogating the evidence until you’d uncovered every little thing. Maybe you could have forced your fellow jurors to confront their prejudices or brought empathy to the room or respect for the scope of your responsibilities as a team of jurors.
In the 2017 documentary Strong Island, the mother of a murdered young black man recalls testifying before the grand jury, a body of jurors that determines whether there is enough evidence for a case to proceed to trial. She describes jurors chatting with one another as she testified about the death of her own son. Jurors reading magazines. None of whom looked like her.
Even though there are witnesses to the murder, the grand jury doesn’t find enough evidence to go to trial. The woman assures us she intuited that verdict the minute she seated herself to testify and saw a crowd of jurors before her who clearly didn’t care enough about what had happened to her son even to do her the courtesy of listening.
But what if you could have replaced one of those jurors and shown the grieving mother some respect? Listened to her testimony? Genuinely considered the evidence?
Now imagine that each juror in that case was replaced with someone who did the same. How would her life be different today? And if every lackadaisical juror everywhere were replaced by a juror who cared, how different would our world be today?
Don't even think about ignoring your summons. If you do, the judge will probably issue a bench warrant, which means you could be arrested at any point. For instance, if you're pulled over for speeding, the officer will look up your license and see that there is a bench warrant out for you.
While you'll probably just get a fine if it's your first time dodging jury duty, but if you've been issued multiple bench warrants, you could go to jail. So don't ignore it!
So be a role model and serve your jury duty in full.
Jury duty isn’t an abstract concept or a chore that exists only in relation to how long you have to endure it. And it isn’t even primarily an obligation that we subject to as citizens. It’s a chance for each of us to make the world a better place. To be a role model in giving back to the community and in putting others first. It also allows us to prove ourselves worthy of the trust that everyone in that courtroom has placed in each of us to do the right thing.
Nobody is exempt from jury duty — even celebrities
Emily Rose is a storyteller at heart, a Kentuckian living in Brooklyn. Also an NYU/Tisch grad, she produced an EP, performed Shakespeare, recorded voice-overs, and taught music to kids before becoming a marketer in the start-up world. Follow her at @the_gremily, and do let her know if you'd like to publish her children's story.
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