Friday, October 09, 2009

The Folly of Avoiding Jury Duty

As a followup to my earlier posts entitled Post Mortem on Jury Duty and Replacing Mandatory Jury Duty with Voluntary Jury Service, this post covers the trials, tribulations, and concerns of those who hope to avoid jury duty altogether. The nature of this challenge has changed dramatically in California with the implementation of the One-Day or One-Trial [pdf] system of jury duty, so much so that trying to avoid jury duty altogether is usually more trouble than its worth.

Once upon a time, California courts would send out questionnaires to prospective jurors before summoning them for jury duty. Now, when someone's number comes up, a jury summons goes out with a ten-day deadline for responding by phone and a date certain for beginning jury duty. When you respond to this summons over the phone, there are a very limited number of excuses that you can use that the court will still accept, such as a physical disability verified by a medical doctor. However, you are usually given the option to postpone your jury duty for as long as three months. You are also warned that this will be your one and only chance for a postponement, which is totally untrue; what is true is that this will be your one and only chance to request a postponement over the phone. Further postponements must be requested in person, and are routinely granted for up to three additional months at a time, provided your jury duty is completed within one year from the time you were summoned.

There was a time when you could safely ignore the questionnaires that were sent out to prospective jurors, as the courts would snare enough people for jury duty out of the people who actually responded to said questionnaires. And while the jury summons that go out now do not go out by registered or certified mail, there's a pretty good chance that you'll end up being served with an order to show cause if you ignore the initial jury summons. As for calling in to register with the court within ten days, that's probably not all that critical, but I'm hard pressed to imagine what benefit could be obtained by putting off this task absent good cause for doing so.

After receiving a jury summons and calling in to register with the court and/or getting a postponement over the phone, you'll be instructed to call in to the court again the weekend before your jury duty is scheduled to begin. And when you call in again as instructed, you'll be given another call in date or a date certain when you are required to show up at the courthouse for jury duty. If and when you are required to show up at the courthouse, you'll probably be given the opportunity to postpone your jury duty for up to three months, as I alluded to above. However, if you choose this option, you'll be going through this whole process again in three months time. On the other hand, if you just accept the fact that your morning is blown and stick around, there's a good chance that you won't be called to a courtroom, and that you'll be cut loose shortly after lunch with proof that you have fulfilled your legal obligation for jury duty.

In the unlikely event that you are sent to a courtroom for jury selection, it's relatively easy to get yourself removed from consideration as a juror by just being candid about any prejudices you might be harboring. To wit, if you have an inherent distrust of police and prosecutors, just say so. Any prosecutor who has two brain cells in his head will either have you excused for cause or exercise his or her right to strike you peremptorily. Similarly, if you are inclined to believe that everyone who appears in a criminal court is probably guilty of some crime, just say so. Things get a little trickier if you're being considered as a juror in a civil case - i.e., a court case where someone is suing someone else rather than one where someone is being prosecuted for allegedly committing a crime. In these instances, your best bet for being excused from consideration is to mention jury nullification. This makes you a wildcard that one or both attorneys in the case will want to avoid, if not the judge.

In sum, trying to get out of jury duty altogether is simple folly. The best that you can hope for is to minimize your jury duty to no more than five days on call or one day at the courthouse as a potential juror. And if your employer pays your salary or wages while you're serving jury duty, make the most of it. When you're required to show up at the courthouse, bring a good book or your laptop, and take good notes so you can blog about your experiences later.

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