What Happens If You Miss Jury Duty?

Updated on June 10, 2019
kate stroud profile image

Kate is married to a seasoned police officer for the state of California.

If you miss jury duty, what's the worst thing that could happen?
If you miss jury duty, what's the worst thing that could happen? | Source

Most people aren't super psyched to find out they've been summoned for jury duty. When you are "called for jury duty," you are legally required to appear in court, but some people don't seem to know how serious a jury summons is. In fact, in some counties, as much as 80% of those summoned don't show up.

Matt C. Pinsker (law professor, criminal defense attorney, and former state and federal prosecutor in VA) says,

"When people do not show up for jury duty, usually nothing happens. The courts have better things to do with their limited resources. However, if not enough people show up to form a jury and as a result a case is delayed, then judges get angry and will send out law enforcement to bring to court the persons who did not show up. There is a possibility of facing a charge of 'contempt of court' and being locked up. Usually though, instead of being locked up, the threat is enough to scare people straight."

Is there any legal way to get out of it? What happens if you avoid or forget the summons and just don't show up?

What Happens If You Don't Show Up for Jury Duty?

If you don’t show up for jury duty without the court's permission, you could find yourself in trouble with the court. The court may issue an “Order to Show Cause” which is a judicial order for you to explain your absence. In extreme cases, the court may issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Below is a list of things that could happen if you don't show, from least to worst.

  • Nothing. This is what usually happens, but you should know that courts have been cranking up their efforts to follow through on penalties.
  • You'll be sent another summons for a new date. And it may happen more quickly than usual, too. Each state has different rules for how often they can summon you to appear for jury duty. For example in California, you have an obligation to serve once every 12 months, but in Massachusetts, it's once every 3 years. If you ignore this second summons, there's a greater likelihood you'll be charged with contempt of court.
  • An order to show cause may be issued. This is court order that requires you to show up in court to explain why you didn't show up for jury duty.
  • A bench warrant may be issued for your arrest. In some states (Arizona, for example), a sheriff's deputy might even show up at your door to arrest you. Or if you're pulled over in traffic for any reason, the police may learn about the warrant and take you to jail.
  • You'll have to go to court to explain to a judge. In many jurisdictions, you'll have to go to court to explain why you didn't show up for jury duty, and the judge will decide how to proceed from there (if there will be fines, jail time, etc.).
  • You may have to pay a fine. If you are found in contempt of court, you may be fined. Fines vary by jurisdiction, but you could pay anything from $100 to $1,000 for missing jury duty.
  • You might have to serve time in jail. If you are found in contempt of court, you may get time, which can vary from a few days to a few months.
  • It may be recorded on your criminal record. If you are sent to jail for contempt of court for missing jury duty, it will be shown on your criminal record.

What Is a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is a type of arrest warrant that was issued by a judge rather than by the police. It gives police the right to arrest you anywhere, at any time. Matthew Ryan, Esq., at Flushing Law Group in NY, says, "a bench warrant can be quite consequential to a person's livelihood because it can prevent them from obtaining a driver's license or renewing an existing license with the DMV."

What's the Worst That Could Happen If You Don't Show Up?

Each jurisdiction has its own penalties, and some are harsher than others. Some states have hefty repercussions for missing jury duty. In Texas, for example, you could be fined up to $1,000 and jailed up to 6 months.

Titus Nichols, a civil trial lawyer and former prosecutor in GA, says, "You can absolutely go to jail for skipping jury duty. I have observed judges direct law enforcement to go to the citizen's home and bring them to court to face the judge for missing jury duty."

So Can You Skip Jury Duty?

The bottom line is that if a court summons you to appear, you need to show up. This is as true for a summons for a civil or criminal case as it is for a jury summons. Failure to appear without permission not to could have serious consequences. You could wind up with a bench warrant, which comes with the potential for jail time and your own special day in court. So if you choose to skip jury duty because it's super inconvenient, you might just rack up even more days of court appearances and fines. Skipping isn't worth it!

You can absolutely go to jail for skipping jury duty. I have observed judges direct law enforcement to go to the citizen's home and bring them to court to face the judge for missing jury duty.

— Titus Nichols, civil trial lawyer and former prosecutor in GA

How Can You Get Excused From Jury Duty?

The summons you get in the mail usually lists instructions for how to defer (delay) or claim a hardship. You may have to fill out the form and mail it in, you might be able to call, or you may have to go to the courthouse at the proper time to make your request in person.

Generally, courts don't force you to appear for jury duty if it'll cause an undue hardship or an extreme inconvenience, like rescheduling a surgery or overseas trip, but every jurisdiction is different. It's important to read the jury summons carefully to see what exemptions might apply to you. (Below, you'll find a list of common jury duty exemptions.)

What are courts less lenient about? Your job and your education. (Yikes.) Since most people have to miss work or school to sit on a jury, having a job or being a student doesn't give you a good excuse. By law, employers can't penalize you for participating in jury duty, and colleges can't punish you for missing class, so these don't make valid excuses.

By the way, once you know you have jury duty, don't schedule a trip, work project, surgery, or another conflict on the same date. The court is less likely to be lenient if you scheduled a conflict despite knowing you were obligated to serve jury duty on the same date.

If you have a newborn at home, you're probably not an ideal candidate for jury duty.
If you have a newborn at home, you're probably not an ideal candidate for jury duty.

Common Jury Duty Exemptions

Michael Dye, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, FL who has been practicing criminal defense for over 15 years, says this:

"If you want to get out of jury duty, follow the law and do it properly. There are numerous reasons that an individual can excuse or postpone jury duty. If you qualify for one of those reasons, simply inform the clerk in accordance with the instructions on the summons. If push comes to shove, just show up and answer the questions truthfully. You don't have to be rude, obnoxious or give 'crazy' answers. As an attorney who has tried a lot of cases, I can tell you that I don't want anybody on my jury who doesn't want to be there. If I hear or feel that a person does not want to be on the jury I am picking, I will excuse the person from the jury. I want my jurors paying attention to the case and not worrying about who is picking up their children or what to have for dinner."

Below, you'll find a list of things that might mark a potential juror as exempt from jury duty. If any of these apply to you, it doesn't mean you don't have to show up for jury selection, but once you're there, you can present one of these reasons to be excused from serving.

1. Undue Hardship

Undue hardship is an exemption that can sometimes be raised to avoid lengthy trials or jury duty altogether. Undue hardship might include:

  • If you would lose necessary income (and can prove severe financial hardship would result).
  • If your participation would make you incapable of caring for a minor child or an old, sick, disabled, or infirm person who is dependent on you.
  • If you have a disability that prevents you from participating.

Make sure to bring proof (documents, etc.) if you plan on claiming a hardship. For example, if you are trying to claim financial hardship, you'll need to have pay stubs and other documents to prove that missing work will affect your ability to pay your bills. Or if you want to claim a disability, you'll need to have a doctor's note.

2. Poor Health

You might be able to avoid serving on a jury if you have certain health conditions. For instance, if you have a condition that would be negatively impacted by serving on a jury and/or being stuck in a courtroom for several hours, you may be excused. Your mental health could also be a factor, particularly if the subject matter of the case could harm your mental health, like triggering your PTSD or worsening your depression.

3. Mental Health Issues

Focus can also be a factor for the court to consider. If you can provide a strong argument to the court that you are under too much stress, that you're going through a great deal of conflict, that you're suffering mental illness, or that your life is otherwise in shambles, the court—or even the attorneys on the case—might decide that you're not really fit to serve on a jury anyway. You may need to provide evidence to support your claim.

4. Connections to the Case

Even if you don't get out of the initial summons, you might avoid serving on a jury if you're connected to the case you're scheduled to serve on. These connections could be:

  • If you know the attorneys, the defendant, or the witnesses in the case.
  • If you have been a victim of a similar crime, suffered similar malpractice, or were charged with a similar crime in the past.
  • If you know too much. Most attorneys want the jury to include only laypeople who don't have expert knowledge about the subject matter. For instance, if the case involves medical malpractice for a heart issue, the attorneys will probably exclude cardiac specialists from serving on the jury.

5. Unsuitable Attitude

If you demonstrate to the court that you don't like to follow the rules or have a negative attitude or bias, then the court or the attorneys might choose not to place you on a jury at all. For a more complete list of how to get out of jury duty, check out How to Get Out of Jury Duty: 15 Excuses That Work.

Is Age a Valid Excuse to Avoid Jury Duty?

You have to be at least 18 years of age to serve on a jury. In most jurisdictions, people who are 75 years or older may request to be excused from jury duty.

What If You're Late or Miss Jury Duty for a "Good" Reason?

Even if you intended to appear for jury duty and missed due to unforeseen circumstances like sudden illness or injury, or your car broke down, or if you're going to be late due to heavy traffic, you'll need to notify the court ASAP. Call the number listed on your summons and explain what happened.

Reschedule Jury Duty, If Possible

If you have a prior commitment that keeps you from being able to show up on the date requested, try contacting the courthouse and letting them know why you can't make it and request to postpone or move the date up. Most courts allow you to postpone your appearance for up to 6 months for any reason, although there is usually a limit to the number of times you can postpone your service (typically two times, maximum).

You may think you have a good excuse...

...but it's not your decision. The judge gets to decide if your excuse is valid or not.

If your spouse or a close relative works in law enforcement, the attorneys on the case may not want you to serve on the jury at all.
If your spouse or a close relative works in law enforcement, the attorneys on the case may not want you to serve on the jury at all. | Source

How Counties Make Lists of Potential Jurors

Most counties get their list of potential jurors from the voter registration lists for given counties and districts. The courts are supposed to summons these jurors at random to avoid potential bias in the jury pools.

Why Jury Service Is Not So Bad

Here's the thing: Jury duty isn't all that bad. Oftentimes, counties call way more people than they need to ensure there's a diverse and qualified jury pool. Any "extras" are excused from serving on a trial and don't have to return.

If you do get picked, most trials only take a day or two, and you might even find the hearing kind of interesting.

At the very least, if you serve jury duty, you know that you've done your duty of helping the judicial system work the way it was designed. Your voice will be heard and you'll help to make an important decision that impacts the lives of people in your community.

As an attorney who has tried a lot of cases, I can tell you that I don't want anybody on my jury who doesn't want to be there. If I hear or feel that a person does not want to be on the jury I am picking, I will excuse the person from the jury.

— Michael Dye, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, FL

Questions About Jury Duty

Can you go to jail for skipping jury duty?

Although rare, there is a possibility that the court could issue a bench warrant for your arrest for missing jury service. More commonly, the court will serve you with an “Order to Show Cause.” This is an order to appear to the courts and explain your absence.

How do you find out if you have a warrant for missing jury duty?

If you suspect you may have a warrant for your arrest as a result of missing jury service, you’ll need to contact your local Sheriff’s Department for the county in which you live and ask them to check for any outstanding warrants.

What should you do if a bench warrant was issued because you missed jury duty?

If you find out that you have a bench warrant for your arrest, you’ll need to go down to the courthouse and see a judge. You’ll likely need to explain to the judge why you missed jury service. Only a judge can withdraw the warrant for your arrest.

What is the easiest way to get out of jury duty?

The smartest course of action is to check with the court the day before you are supposed to show up. Ask them if your presence is still required. Oftentimes, you'll find that they have enough jurors coming in so they don't need you.

What if I don't speak English very well? Can I get out of jury duty?

Most attorneys want jurors who fully understand English, so you may be excused, but you will also need to supply evidence.

What if I don't have a car? Is that a valid excuse to skip jury duty?

You'll need to show up at the court when you've been summoned, then explain this to the judge. They will ask you why it's not possible to take public transportation, and you'll need to bring documents to support your answer.

What if I no longer live in the county that sent the summons?

When you show proof of your new address (a utility bill or a driver's license that shows the new address), you will be excused.

Have you ever skipped jury duty?

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© 2018 Kate Stroud


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