This week’s question comes from Bryan L. in Oakland, who writes: “How do I get out of jury duty?”
Dear Bryan: Seriously, shame on you. Simple answer, DON’T.
One sure way to get out of being on a jury is to be a criminal defendant. Then you don’t have to sit on a jury and, at the same time, you will hope to God that you will have a group of people who didn’t try and evade their civic responsibility and are willing to sit and fairly hear your case and defense. Another way is become a convicted felon and be deprived of your constitutional rights such as bearing arms, being free from unlawful search and seizure, and the ability to sit on a jury or vote.
The original founders, who fought and died for our independence called the right to a jury: “A sacred right” …. “the most important privilege which freemen can enjoy.” The deprivation of a right to jury trials was one of the main grievances leading to the Revolutionary War. This right is listed in the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (1775) and the Declaration of Independence (1776). So, jury service is not a hassle, it is a sacred duty people died for. It is part of what we are fighting to establish all over the world with our armed forces.
The United States Constitution, in the Sixth Amendment (part of the Bill of Rights) proclaims: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
The California Constitution Art. 1, Sec. 16 states: “Trial by jury is an inviolate right and shall be secured to all, but in a civil cause three-fourths of the jury may render a verdict. A jury may be waived in a criminal cause by the consent of both parties expressed in open court by the defendant and the defendant’s counsel. In a civil cause a jury may be waived by the consent of the parties expressed as prescribed by statute. In civil causes the jury shall consist of 12 persons….” In criminal actions in which a felony is charged, the jury must also consist of 12 persons, in misdemeanor cases the parties can agree to a lesser number.
The California Legislature has proclaimed: “The Legislature recognizes that trial by jury is a cherished constitutional right, and that jury service is an obligation of citizenship. It is the policy of the State of California that all persons selected for jury service shall be selected at random from the population of the area served by the court; that all qualified persons have an equal opportunity, in accordance with this chapter, to be considered for jury service in the state and an obligation to serve as jurors when summoned for that purpose; and that it is the responsibility of jury commissioners to manage all jury systems in an efficient, equitable, and cost-effective manner.”
As a practical matter, your county court uses DMV and voter registration lists to select potential jurors at random. The purpose of random selection is to ensure that cases are decided by a fair cross-section of the community, also affording members of all communities the opportunity to contribute to our justice system at the ground level. Jurors are not expected to have any specific knowledge prior to serving; they need not even speak perfect English to qualify so long as they can understand and discuss the case. The only requirements for jury service are U.S. citizenship, at least 18 years of age, residence in the county serving the summons, and absence of conservatorship or felony conviction. Persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations including wheelchair access, readers, assistive listening devices, sign language interpreters, and real-time captioning.
Most trials require a week or less of your time, although length may vary depending on the complexity of the legal issues involved and how quickly jurors arrive at the required level of consensus. Jurors receive a $15 per day stipend plus one-way transportation costs beginning on the second day of service. Your employer is required by law to excuse you from work without negative repercussions while you serve as a juror; if you experience harassment or other adverse employment action, you can file a claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. However, it is always advisable to notify your employer as soon as possible after receiving your juror summons to allow for any necessary preparations to be made in case of your absence. If there is a reason why a specific date is inconvenient for you, you can usually request to postpone your service for up to six months by following the instructions on your summons notice.
No potential juror should be called for service more than once in twelve months and no one may serve on more than one jury concurrently. If you think you have been called improperly, you should call the court to resolve the situation. Additionally, there are limited circumstances under which you may request an excusal from jury service for at least one year, including if you are over 70 and have a serious health condition, if you are a breastfeeding mother or are otherwise indispensable to a dependant’s care, if you require accommodations that the court is unable to provide, or in cases of extreme financial hardship. However, if you are qualified to serve and have not been granted an excusal, failure to respond may cost you up to $1,500 in fines.
As sacred of an institution as jury service should be held, it has not been spared by criminals seeking to fraudulently exploit others’ civic commitment. In recent years, there has been a trend in “spam” phone calls from people purporting to be court officials requesting personal identifying and financial information. Jury staff will never ask for personal information over the phone. If you receive such a phone call, do not give any personal information and immediately contact your local police department and jury service office.
As a trial lawyer who brings cases on behalf of his injured clients in front of juries, I can tell you that jury service is the purest form of democracy that exists on this planet. It is part of a process where 12 people decide what the community standards will be, whether rights will be bestowed or taken away. All juries that I have appeared in front of felt proud and patriotic after serving on a jury. So you should try it before the day that maybe your rights may be taken from you without a trial by your peers.
So lets all of us, be patriotic Americans and serve our country by responding to our summons for jury duty when called upon. Help bring fairness and justice to our troubled world.
We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Our work is no recovery, no free or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.