Yes, jury duty is a legal obligation, and sure, it contributes to the impartiality and overall fairness of the American judicial system, but it's also a genuine pain in the neck.
You miss work. You battle rush-hour traffic to get downtown. You wander cluelessly around the courthouse looking for your room. You wait for what seems like an eternity (two hours). Finally, you're herded into a courtroom to be questioned by bored lawyers and a scary-looking judge. Then you're sent home with a few bucks for your trouble. Or worse, you are selected for a trial that lasts all week!
There are legitimate reasons to want to avoid jury duty, but we would never encourage you to break the law. Instead, use the law to your advantage.
For example, most states draw prospective jurors from the voter registration rolls and the driver's license database. If your name appears differently on those two lists — Bob instead of Robert, for example, or married name versus maiden name — you might be counted twice. The same thing can happen if your address or birth date are different [source: Superior Court of California]. Lower your odds of getting picked by updating your records through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Then there are the exemptions from service. When you receive your jury summons, it will come with a questionnaire to determine your eligibility for service. Medical or physical conditions are certainly grounds for exemption, if accompanied by a doctor's note (jurors over 70 don't need a note). You can also claim a "hardship" exemption if serving on a jury will result in a critical loss of wages, or you need to be home to take care of a child or elderly relative [source: Philadelphia Courts].
What if you can't legally get out of jury service, but want to avoid being picked for an actual trial? Homer Simpson's sage advice: "Getting out of jury duty is easy. The trick is to say you're prejudiced against all races." Well, not exactly. While it's true that lawyers or the judge will dismiss a juror who is openly biased against one of the parties in the case, don't pull a Homer. Once you've heard an overview of the case, you can simply claim that you are unable be fair and impartial, and they'll let you go [source: Warner].
For lots more information about the U.S. judicial system and famously controversial court cases, check out the links below.
Author's Note: Do some people get called for jury duty more than others?
I've only be called for jury duty once, and I'm, uh, a couple of years beyond my 18th birthday. To be honest, I kind of got a kick out of the whole experience. Sure, there was a lot of unnecessary sitting around and the vending machine selection was deplorable, but I came this close — this close! — to sitting on an actual death penalty case. Unfortunately, as a freelance writer, if I'm not writing, I'm not getting paid, so I asked for an exemption. The district attorney might have kicked me off the list anyway, since I was unsure whether I could vote for the death penalty. Frankly, I find it somewhat insane that a group of 12 doofuses (doofi?) like me could be handed that much power in the first place.
More Great Links
- Edwards, Johnny. "Judges: This time we're serious about jury duty crackdown." Atlanta-Journal Constitution. May 2, 2012. (April 17, 2015). http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/judges-this-time-were-serious-about-jury-duty-crac/nQTS8/
- History.com. "Ancient Greek Democracy." 2010 (April 17, 2015) http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/ancient-greece-democracy
- Legal Information Institute. "28 U.S. Code Chapter 121 – JURIES; TRIAL BY JURY" (April 17, 2015) https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/28/part-V/chapter-121
- Library of Congress (LOC). "Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor" (April 17, 2015) http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/magna-carta-muse-and-mentor/trial-by-jury.html
- The Philadelphia Courts. "Frequently Asked Questions About Jury Service" (April 17, 2015) http://www.courts.phila.gov/juryservice/juryfaq.asp?keepThis=true
- Superior Court of California. "Frequently Asked Questions" (April 17, 2015) http://www.fresno.courts.ca.gov/jury/faq.php
- United States Courts. "About Jury Service" (April 17, 2015) http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/JuryService/about-jury-service.aspx
- United States Courts. "Juror Qualifications, Exemptions and Excuses" (April 17, 2015) http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/JuryService/JurorQualificaitons.aspx
- United States Courts. "Jury Service in Federal Courts" (April 17, 2015) http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/get-informed/federal-court-basics/jury-service-federal-courts.aspx
- Warner, Joel. "Runaway Juror: Can I use science to get out of jury duty?" Slate. Feb. 22, 2012 (April 17, 2015) http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/02/the_science_of_getting_out_of_jury_duty_.html