Unless you live completely off the grid, with no drivers license or state issued ID card at all, have no record of where you live, have never registered with the post office to receive mail at a certain address, or have never registered to vote… or maybe if you’re under the age of 18, chances are you’ve received that Jury Duty Summons letter in the mail and felt the same pang of anxiety that almost all people feel when they get one – especially the first one. My initial reaction has always been “how dare they impose on my extremely valuable time?” followed by remembering the hilarious bit that George Carlin did on getting out of jury duty:
A lot of people try to get out of jury duty by lying. You don’t have to lie; tell the judge the truth. Tell him you’d make a terrific juror because you can spot guilty people [snaps his fingers] just like that!
It’s really hilarious when you see this bit being performed by George, because as we all know his comedy wasn’t really comedy as much as it was pointing out the stupidity of humanity. It’s funny but there actually is a grain of truth to this famous bit.
If you search Google for how to get out of jury duty, you’ll find a lot of articles. One in particular that I read and pretty much agreed with in it’s entirety with was “9 Ways To Get Out Of Jury Duty” by Business Insider. By no means is it the best or only article. It’s just one that I read preparing for writing this post.
And why am I writing this post? Well, I was called just a few weeks ago and I got lucky that my number was too high and I never made it into the jury pool that week. But I was adamant that I would not serve because it could potentially cause me and my family great financial peril. I am a consultant who writes software, databases, and web applications for clients that pay big bucks and have high expectations. I have no employer, and if I don’t work I don’t get paid anything, and not only that I have contractual obligations to meet certain deadlines and milestones or I could be in deep shit with my clients. But that’s only the half of it. Right now, I’m struggling to keep the ship afloat due to a long spell of little or no significant work, and the potential exists that a stint with a jury trial could spell financial ruin. I thought about writing this blog post back when I got summoned but decided not to. Then my wife got summoned last week, and even though it wasn’t my summons, the imposition I felt was still just as real. I told my wife if she wanted to get out of it I could give her some tips. Then I thought I should write an article that might help others understand the right and wrong reasons you may want to use for getting out of jury duty.
Jury Duty is your Civic Duty. It could be an honor to serve.
First of all, let’s just get this out of the way because I don’t want my readers to think that I’m totally 100% anti government, or anti-establishment. Actually, I am really anti-government and I’m anti-establishment… to a point. But I do believe that in our current system, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty is important, and to have a jury of your peers examine evidence and determine guilt or innocence is extremely ideological. And because of that many people are happy to serve. There can be an intense sense of pride from doing your civic duty. So don’t discount this. Don’t try getting out of jury duty because it’s the “thing to do”. Each of us has to examine our own individual circumstances and decide for ourselves if it’s something we can do, or want to do, at the time of the summons. But if you want to get out of it, remember that you will be sworn and under oath when you are questioned. You do NOT want to lie or be deceptive. These attorneys and judges have seen and heard it all. If you are just trying to get out of jury duty just for the sake of getting out of it, you could end up in serious trouble. But if your circumstances dictate that jury duty may be a detriment of some form or other, then you should convey this to the judge and the attorneys, but be honest.
Lying could mean perjury, which is a felony. Or at least a contempt charge.
Whatever you do, don’t lie. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. These are professionals and they’ll know if you are lying. Lying on the stand is perjury, which is a felony. You could get five years in a real prison in most states for it if your lie is severe enough to warrant prosecution. The most likely outcome of getting caught lying will be that the judge finds you in contempt and you spend five days in jail and pay a significant fine ($1000 significant enough for you?).
You may not even have to try get out of it.
When they are picking jurors for a jury pool, they will sometimes ask general questions of the group to disqualify the most obvious potential jurors who would be a problem for the particular case. If it’s a car thief going on trial, they may ask if anybody has ever had their car stolen. If you answer yes, you could be disqualified because of bias. Or if the accused is a rapist, the defense may not want you anywhere near the jury if you or anyone close to you has been a victim of sexual assault. Listen to the questions and answer honestly. You may be disqualified before you even have to be questioned by attorneys in front of a judge while under oath.
The wrong reasons to use for getting out of jury duty.
The lawyers and judges who participate in a voir dire processes to select jurors for a trial have heard it all before, so don’t go in with these excuses or anything like them.
- I’ll get fired. You can’t be fired for Jury Duty. The law protects you and if you have an employer stupid enough to threaten you, file a complaint with the court. They’ll take care of it for you. But trying to use this excuse when it isn’t true is perjury.
- Financial Hardship. Most trials are a week. Sometimes a day or two. You can’t get out of jury duty with this excuse for short trials. But if you try and use it, you better be able to substantiate it. “I have $10 in the bank, no job, no unemployment, and am about to be evicted from my home” might get you a request for proof from the judge. However, if the trial is going to be long: weeks, a month, 90 days… this might work if you are the sole provider for your family and do not have enough resources to manage a trial that long. If your employer pays for your normal wages while on jury duty, you’ll never get off because you are the sole provider, even if you normally work lots of overtime and jury duty will only get you a straight 40 hour paycheck. But if your employer does not pay for jury duty, you won’t be any good to the trial if you become homeless during the trial.
- Business Owner. This will not work in most trials because they’re not really very long. However, if you have contracts and can suffer financial damage from not fulfilling them, and you can prove this, it may work. It all depends on the situation. If you are the sole provider for your family and being out of business will cause you to earn $0 income for an extended trial, as long as you can prove it it might work. But it’s not a good primary reason.
Some valid reasons to use for getting out of jury duty.
- Bias. Be careful with this, but considering the case and the defendant (and possibly the victim) search your past for any experiences both personal or very close to you (close friend or family member) that may cause your judgement to be biased, rendering you unable to be fair and impartial.
- Disagreement with the law. Face it, if you strongly believe that drugs should be legal, the prosecution may not want you anywhere near a case involving drugs. If you feel strongly suspicious towards females who claim date-rape – say you think most claims are bogus, the prosecutor won’t want you. Conversely, if you are a female and have had dates take it all the way while your mind and mouth kept saying “No” even as your body betrayed your wishes and know from experience that any man who keeps going after you say “no” is guilty and should be punished, the defense isn’t going to want you on the jury. If you tell the judge that you will never find someone accused of a vice related crime “guilty” because you do not believe the government has the authority to legislate any form of recreation, be it sex, drugs, gambling, etc., chances are they aren’t going to want you on the jury for a vice related crime.
- You must care for somebody who is unable to care for themselves. Imagine if you are married and your spouse is bedridden at home, and you have no relatives nearby who can step in, and being left alone would be life threatening for this individual, this may get you excused. But it won’t work if you have a full time job because if you can go to work and the ill person can survive your absence, then you can perform your civic duty.
- Financial Hardship. Yes, this is listed above as an excuse not to use, but it’s also an excuse you can use as long as you can provide convincing evidence to the court that you are on the brink of financial peril and cannot spare even a single day away from trying to save yourself from homelessness. But you better come prepared with bank statements, a list of bills, a cash-flow forecast showing exactly when you will fall into the red… anything you can to show that your risk of financial hardship is real. Again, no one wants you to go homeless while performing your civic duty.
- Bias – Racial, Sexual, or otherwise. Face it, if you are a racist, a sexist, or a bigot, and you are not afraid to say so in a world that is becoming more and more intolerant of racists and sexists and bigots, you may get an earful from the judge and sent on your way. Of course, this only works if you are a racist and the accused is of a race you find inferior to your own, or if the accused is of a race you find superior to all others. If you are a feminist who thinks all men are scum and the accused is a man, say so. If you are a man who thinks all women need to be kept in line with a smack across the face on a regular basis and the accused is a woman, say so. But a little reverse psychology can be helpful here. If you are a black man and the accused is black, if you feel that black people are routinely and unjustly accused and convicted of crimes even if they aren’t guilty, you may play that up a bit and the prosecution might not like the idea of someone on the jury that would refuse to find a fellow black man guilty. Likewise, a woman may not want to find another woman guilty of certain crimes.
- Distrust of the Courts and Legal System. OK, so you think the entire legal system is a racket. Designed by lawyers who get into government to create a morass of legal complexity that supports and props up the entire brotherhood of $300 per hour shysters that basically operate within a system that allows them to – for lack of a better term – “print money”, that might be of concern to both sides, depending on the case.
- Negative personal experience with the Courts. Supposing you’ve had one or more really negative personal experiences with the legal system and feel the system is rigged or unfair, you should make sure you let them know this right away as soon as you can: but don’t lie about it. They just might do a little investigating to substantiate your claims and if the case or cases you are referring to never actually happened, you could be in contempt.
- Predisposition to finding guilt or innocence. Let’s say you distrust most people and believe everybody is probably guilty most of the time, that might be enough to get you excused. Or conversely, you think that the majority of so-called crimes aren’t actually crimes at all, and refuse to find guilt in victimless crimes like drunk driving where no one was injured or recreational drug use or even drug dealing, or refuse to find guilt for prostitution or attempting to procure a prostitute, or just feel the government is violating everyone’s guaranteed right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by passing laws that create criminals out of ordinary citizens for activities that have done no harm to anyone, you may want to let them know this.
The bottom line is that everyone should do their civic duty and serve on jury duty at least once. You never know when you are going to be the one in need of a trial where you will be judged by a jury of your peers. The system relies on citizens who are willing to make sacrifices in order to serve in the jury system so that everybody has a right to a fair trial. But you need to be completely honest with the courts and yourself. Just as the courts don’t want somebody predisposed to never finding guilt, they also don’t want somebody who is predisposed to finding guilt either. The idea is that the jury is impartial and without bias. But if you cannot be impartial and without bias for actual, valid, honest reasons, that is probably the most likely thing that you can employ for getting out of jury duty.
Personally, I think the entire system is one big, gigantic racket. Lawyers become lawmakers to create laws to make pretty much everybody guilty of something, which feeds the court system, makes lawyers very wealthy, and makes the prison-industrial complex also very wealthy. Ordinary, good people can do real time in real prisons for things that you may never think would or should land them in prison. Just because you drink and drive shouldn’t make you a criminal. If you cause injury or damage, that’s another thing. Our founding fathers believed in “Common Law” which basically translates to “No Harm, No Foul” which really means there can be no crime if no one was injured or harmed. Putting somebody in prison and ruining their entire life for a bag of Marijuana, or paying another willing adult to have sex, or having some fun at a party and snorting cocaine, or getting together with friends or business acquaintances to play poker and bet money (in the hopes of winning), or any other victimless crime; is an egregious violation of that person’s autonomy and freedom and their inalienable right to find happiness in this way too short life.
Have an AWESOME Day!