A jury is a group of ordinary citizens who determine guilt or innocence (in a criminal trial) or liability (in a civil action such as a car accident or a dog bite lawsuit, for example). Almost all defendants enjoy a constitutional right to a jury trial. Correspondingly, most citizens have an obligation to serve on a jury when a court calls on them to do so. So what happens if you refuse to show up for jury duty?
How Does Jury Selection Work?
Showing up for jury duty does not necessarily mean you will be on a jury. It means you must show up for jury selection day. If you are not selected for the jury, you can go home, but you may be selected for jury duty again. Lawyers can eliminate jurors, for cause, and, in some cases, without cause.
In fact, an attorney may eliminate you for possible bias against their client. If you are otherwise eligible for jury duty, you will still have to attend jury selection day in order to be excused from further jury duty.
Who Can Opt Out of Serving on a California Jury?
The following people can postpone or opt out of jury duty in California with the permission of the court:
- Students (postponement until next school break);
- Breastfeeding mothers (postponement for up to a year);
- Anyone over 70 with certain physical or mental conditions;
- Someone who lacks reasonable transportation to court;
- Excessive travel to attend trial (you are on a business trip to New YHork during the trial, for example);
- Financial hardship;
- Caregivers with no alternative caregivers available; or
- Undue risk to physical property.
Unfortunately, fear of missing work is not an excuse to get out of jury duty. Employers are prohibited by law from taking action against employees for fulfilling their jury duty obligations. Contact the court in advance if you believe you have a valid excuse.
Are There Individuals Who Cannot Serve on Juries?
The following people cannot serve on a jury even of they want to:
- Non-citizens of the US (including permanent residents with “green cards”);
- Minors under 18 years old;
- Non-residents of the county where the court sits;
- Convicted felons whose rights have not been restored; and
- People undergoing a current prosecution for a criminal offense.
If you fall in one of these categories, you are not eligible for jury service.
Failure to Appear and the Second Jury Summons
Normally, if you simply fail to show up for jury duty without the court’s permission, the court will take no punitive action against you the first time. Instead, the court will send you a letter notifying you that you failed to appear and assign you a new jury duty date. If you fail to appear for the second date, the court may commence legal action against you.
Order to Show Cause and Contempt of Court
After your second failure to appear, the court may order you to appear at a “show cause” hearing. At this hearing, you must provide the court with a satisfactory reason why you failed to appear. If you don’t, then the court can convict you of contempt of court.
Contempt of court is a criminal charge. The court can fine you $250 for a first offense, and it can also incarcerate you. If you fail to appear at your show cause hearing, the court will add an additional charge to your contempt of court charge. You will have to answer for both of them or suffer the penalties.
When You Need a Lawyer Related to Jury Duty
You don’t necessarily need a lawyer if you have simply received a jury summons. You may consult with a lawyer if you are unsure whether you have a valid excuse. You should also contact a lawyer if you have been charged with contempt of court for failing to show up for jury duty.
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