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Few among us are excited to see an envelope in the mail that reads “summons.” Since the jury summons process is designed to be as random as possible, you never know when that dreaded letter may arrive in the mail. Luckily, you might not need to rearrange your schedule just yet. There are practical tools at your disposal to get out of jury duty.
If you couldn’t already guess, this guide isn’t going to dwell on the nuances of civic duty. Let’s assume you’re an upstanding citizen who has a very noble reason for getting out of your jury summons. Plus, the consequences for lying to evade jury duty can result in serious fines or even criminal contempt charges, with jail time as a possibility. With that out of the way, here are all the legal ways you can avoid jury duty.
Practical claims you can use to get out of jury duty
To find a legitimate way out of your summons, begin by looking at anything that prevents you from being physically present for duty or that indicates you would not be able to be an impartial juror.
If any of the following excuses apply to your situation, you can file a written response to your summons that clearly lays out all the reasons why you cannot serve on that date. Below we go into the sort of proof different excuses require.
Note that this letter is not a guarantee that you successfully got out of jury duty—each local court has their own procedures for writing this letter and the court’s consideration of your request. (Scroll to the bottom to see the potential consequences of accidentally—or intentionally—skipping jury duty without an excuse.)
Request a date change
You can postpone your service date, no explanation needed. You can usually put off jury service for up to six months, two or three times after being summoned. Rules vary by state, but most will let you reschedule for a later date.
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For example, in New York, you can postpone your service once online or by calling a toll-free number at least one week before your date of service. Make sure to have your juror index number handy when you go online or call, and check your home state’s regulations because they might be different.
Some extra advice, from Lifehacker’s own Stephen Johnson: “Since they let you pick the date you want to serve, choose the day before a long weekend. No one is going to start a case on that day, and everyone wants to get out early. I was out by 11 a.m..”
Here’s another hot tip from Money Check: Request to move your service date to December. Apparently this time of year, there’s a greater chance that the court cancels or postpones the hearing. In the best case scenario, the court doesn’t recall you for the new date, and you get off scot-free.
Claim economic hardship
Maybe you own a small business that cannot run without your presence, or maybe your family will suffer significant financial hardship if you are eventually selected to be a juror. Financial hardship is a legitimate claim to get out of your jury summons, but you’ll need several documents in addition to your excuse letter. You’ll need to provide your current tax forms showing your financial status, documentation showing present employment status (wages, hours, etc.), and any document showing your inability to provide support for you or your family as a result of jury service.
Note: Government jobs and some large employers will pay employees during jury duty, but many other jobs will not. Unfortunately, “missing work” doesn’t usually qualify as a claim for economic hardship in and of itself (no matter how true it may be).
Claim medical hardship
Courts can’t expect you to show up if you have a legitimate medical limitation. You don’t have to prove you’re in a coma, either. For instance, if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you could consider explaining why this would prevent you from sitting and focusing on a case for large stretches of time. Those looking to claim medical hardship must provide a signed statement from a licensed physician that indicates your condition and how long it’s expected to last.
Prove that you’re a caretaker
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You might have dependents or individuals you care for who cannot be alone all day while you attend your summons. If you’re a caregiver for someone under the age of 16, you must provide copies of the birth certificates of the children you care for and an explanation as to why there are no other options for them while you’re at jury duty. All other caregivers (like for a parent, partner, or sibling) need a doctor’s note detailing the patient’s diagnosis and confirmation that their services as a caregiver are required.
Be a college student
If you’re currently a student, you’re probably in the clear. Full-time students need to submit a copy of their student ID or class schedule to explain why they can’t show up on their summons date.
Be a senior citizen
Each court system has its own rules, and many state courts recognize that jury duty can be an extreme hardship for many senior citizens. Some states, like Mississippi and South Carolina, will excuse you if you’re over 65 years old. Others, like Arkansas and Colorado, have no specific exemptions for senior citizens. This resource details a state-by-state age of exemption for jury duty.
Express mental/emotional instability
While it might be difficult to share deeply personal information, a diagnosis of mental illness could get you out of the jury box. Even if you don’t have a diagnosis, it’s worth explaining extenuating circumstances, like a death in the family. Business Insider points out that this excuse could be particularly handy in very complex cases involving scientific issues, which would require jurors to be free of mental distractions.
Explain why you can’t be impartial
Even if you don’t know the details of the case yet, you might have a good reason why you can never be an impartial juror. For instance, if you’re a contractor who often works with your local police department, you should write in and explain that this makes you biased toward (or against) police officers right off the bat. Similarly, if your family member works in law enforcement, point out how this makes you highly subjective one way or another.
How to not get selected to be on a jury
Keep in mind that your initial jury duty summons is only for attending jury selection day, not the jury service itself. If you can’t get out of attending jury selection, here are some ideas to make sure no lawyer wants you in their courtroom.
Be overly enthusiastic
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Try a little reverse psychology and act like you really want to be on this jury. Lawyers generally avoid individuals who seem overly eager, since that type of juror could potentially have an agenda in mind before even hearing the case.
Have your mind made up
If you truthfully have a stance that pertains to the case, make it clear. For instance, if you’ve been wronged by an insurance company in the past, then you shouldn’t be a part of a case that deals with insurance.
Be an “expert” of some kind
Lawyers want to be able to mold jurors’ minds. If you’re able to convey that you’re already an expert on some issue related to the case, chances are that you’ll be dismissed.
Mention veto rights
If you get selected for jury duty, this is your last shot. The presiding judge asks you to swear that you will reach a verdict on the case based on the merits of the facts presented to you in court by the prosecution and defense teams. You can refuse to swear to this commitment. Tell the judge about your legitimate veto rights as a juror, which means that it’s the jury’s right to find a verdict as they see fit. This is known as “jury nullification,” and while it is totally legal, it’s a pain to the prosecution and the court.
How to avoid penalties
As fun as it may seem, this is no time to pull a Liz Lemon. Never lie openly in court, or make false claims in front of the judge—you could end up paying for it with jail time. In cases where the judge thinks you’re trying to make a mockery of their court, they have the right to sentence you to a jail term of up to two years. That’s a lot longer than your jury service in the first place.
Requests to be excused are reviewed by the courts on a case by case basis. Don’t be a no-show or leave jury selection early because you assume that your reasoning was valid. You might end up with a steep fine, and there’s also the possibility of the court sentencing you to up to two years of jail time on charges of contempt of court.
Best of luck evading your civic duty for now. For more jury facts, check out our debunking of some pervasive myths about jury duty.