Jury service is mandatory in the United States and considered a civic duty. Potential jurors can be selected randomly from lists of licensed drivers, registered voters, and other public records. Any person who is qualified to serve as a juror and who is summoned for jury duty must appear. Persons qualified to serve as jurors are adults who are citizens of the United States.
In some states, convicted felons or those convicted of a felony and still serving a sentence or probation are not qualified. While some people consider jury duty annoying (in truth, it can even be a hardship), lying to get out of it is never a good idea and can result in criminal charges against you.
You can be summoned for jury duty by a local, state, or federal court. Courts usually send a summons to appear for jury duty by mail. You are required to appear at the time and place designated in the summons. If you do not appear, a judge can charge you with the misdemeanor of failure to appear or with contempt of court and issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
A bench warrant directs the police to take you into custody and bring you before the court to address your failure to appear. Whether the judge will send an officer to execute the warrant immediately, or wait until you happen to be pulled over for a traffic violation and the officer finds the warrant in the computer system, varies from court to court or even judge to judge. You can avoid worrying and wondering about this by appearing at the place and time indicated on your summons to jury duty.
Courts also vary in their response to potential jurors who ignore their jury summons. Some courts will reschedule the person's jury service and send another summons, giving the person another chance to comply without intervention. Rather than issue a bench warrant immediately, a judge might also send a notice to the person, ordering him to appear at court and address his failure to appear for jury duty. If the judge uses these alternatives and you ignore them, the court ultimately may file criminal charges, issue a bench warrant, or both.
All potential jurors are required to complete juror questionnaires containing questions on topics such as the person's education, employment, criminal history, any disabilities that may require accommodation or would prevent the person from serving on a jury, whether the person works in or is related to someone who works in law enforcement, and whether the person owns or uses firearms.
You might think, or others might suggest, that lying on your questionnaire might help you get out of jury duty. Someone might recommend that you claim on your questionnaire that you oppose the jury system, lie about your life circumstances, or make false statements about your employment or current residence. These are not good suggestions. Making false statements in a jury questionnaire actually can be the basis for a charge of perjury, a felony crime.
Some people believe that a letter falsely claiming you are the only caretaker for your sick, elderly mother; or falsely describing the financial hardship that jury duty would impose on you, is the way to get out of jury duty. Other people may think a letter from an employer falsely claiming that the person summoned for jury duty is desperately needed at work can convince the court to excuse the person from jury duty. If your absence from your job truly would be a hardship for your employer, a letter explaining the circumstances is entirely appropriate and the judge may consider it and even excuse you. (Legitimate grounds for excusal from jury duty are addressed below.) If, however, you ask your employer to lie for you or forge a letter without your employer's knowledge and the court learns that the letter is not truthful or is a forgery, you could be charged with contempt of court or other crimes and be sentenced to time in jail.
Before a criminal trial begins, the defense, prosecution, and the judge select a jury. As part of the jury selection process, the judge (and in some cases the attorneys) can ask the potential jurors questions about their life experience and their views on particular issues such as the subject matter of the case, crime, law enforcement, the trial process, and the responsibilities of being a juror. (This process is also referred to as voir dire (vwar deer).) The formal purpose of these questions is to determine whether a potential juror is so biased that he could not be fair and impartial in considering the evidence and charges against the defendant.
Potential jurors commonly are asked, for example, whether they would assume the defendant is guilty if he does not testify. In a case involving charges of driving while intoxicated, the attorneys might ask the potential jurors about their views on alcohol and DUI or DWI issues. If the case involves the death penalty and the jury may be asked to recommend whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, there will be many questions about the potential jurors' views on the death penalty and whether they would be able to recommend a death sentence if the case met the legal requirements for that sentence.
Lying or acting inappropriately during jury selection in hopes of being excused also is not appropriate and could result in a criminal charge. You might be advised to claim during jury selection that you have extreme opinions or biases about the criminal justice system, or that you would not follow the rules or the jury instructions. Some people think that behaving oddly or pretending to fall asleep or not pay attention during voir dire will get them excused. If the judge discovers that you are misrepresenting yourself during the selection process, she can charge you with contempt and put you in jail.
Courts can and will excuse citizens from jury duty in certain circumstances. Laws regarding jury services sometimes provide grounds for excusal or deferral, and judges have the discretion to excuse potential jurors or defer their service on a case-by-case basis. The exact requirements vary by state and by court, but grounds for excusal can include:
If you receive a summons for jury duty and believe you have legitimate grounds to be excused, you can contact the court and ask how to proceed. You may be directed to provide documents to the court, write a letter, or have your employer submit a letter. You should be truthful in all interactions with the court and provide only valid documents that do not misrepresent you or your situation.
If you have questions about jury service or concerns that the court is improperly refusing to excuse you, you can consult with an attorney. A qualified attorney will know the laws and rules regarding jury service in your area and can assist you in communicating with the court about your circumstances, if necessary.