Can You Be Penalized for Missing Jury Duty?

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As a citizen of the United States, it is your civic duty to serve on a jury when called to do so by the courts. While some people relish in the opportunity to participate on a jury and help uphold the rights given to citizens under the U. S. Constitution, others will try to avoid jury service altogether. 

Are there any consequences when you skip jury duty? Are there legal excuses to get you out of jury service in California? 

Jury duty is seen as a perk of citizenship to some people. Others find it a nuisance that disrupts their daily lives. Jury duty can take you away from work and family obligations, potentially leading to financial implications. It can also require you to make alternate arrangements for transportation and child care. Some people find that sitting in a room full of other potential jurors is a waste of their valuable time.

No matter how you look at jury duty, serving on a jury is a critically important piece of our criminal justice system. Everyone who's accused of a crime has the right to a trial by jury of their peers to help ensure that proper justice is served. For all the perceived inconvenience of sitting on a jury, especially those placed on a lengthy trial, it is one of the foundations of the American justice system.

Are there consequences for skipping jury duty?

In the state of California, you can be called to serve on a jury once a year. Although it is unlikely that you will be called annually to sit on a jury, it is possible. When you receive a jury summons in the mail, do not ignore the summons. Ignoring the summons could have potential ramifications including being held in contempt of court, fined or given jail time. 

When you receive a jury summons in the mail, it acts as an order from the court and is not a voluntary request. In some cases, tossing the summons in the trash or ignoring it completely can be considered contempt of court. The penalty for contempt of court could include fines of up to $1,000, up to five days in jail and a mark on your record.

In most cases, the first offence of ignoring a jury summons will simply result in a second summons calling you back to the court for a new jury duty date. However, ignoring this second summons could result in the penalties mentioned above.

The Code of Civil Procedure Section 209 states that: “any prospective trial juror who has been summoned for service, and he fails to attend as directed or to respond to the court or jury commissioner and to be excused from attendance, may be attached and compelled to attend... The court may find the prospective juror in contempt of court, punishable by fine, incarceration, or both, as otherwise provided by law.”

Are there any legal excuses for missing jury duty? 

The state of California provides for some legal excuses for missing jury duty. The prospective juror must be able to provide proof of one of the following valid excuses in order to be relieved from service. With a valid excuse, the service will be postponed for a future date. 

Valid excuses may include: 

  • Active service in the military
  • No transportation to and from the courthouse
  • Travel requirement of more than 90 minutes roundtrip
  • Extreme financial burden
  • A prior felony conviction
  • Providing daytime care for another person 
  • Risk of physical or mental hardship 
  • Previous jury service within the last 18 months

Other reasons you may be relieved of jury duty can be that you are: 

  • A peace officer 
  • Currently serving as a grand juror
  • Under the age of 18
  • Not a United States citizen
  • Not an English speaker 

If you believe you have a valid excuse for postponing your jury service, there is a form you must complete in your response to your summons. The court will review the information and make decisions on a case by case basis.

As a resident of California, you may get called to jury duty every 12 months. Jury duty is not voluntary; in fact, it is a requirement of all U.S. citizens. If you receive a jury summons in the mail, ignoring it could result in contempt of court charges that may come with jail time and fines. Always respond to your summons. There are valid excuses for postponing your service if they apply.