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What if I Get Called for Jury Duty and Can't Serve?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

If you have a driver's license, voter registration, or a state ID, at some point you may be called to report for jury duty in your state. Receiving a summons for jury duty is about as welcome as a traffic ticket.

However, serving as a juror is your civic duty, and skipping jury duty can lead to serious consequences, such as being held in contempt of court, fines, and jail time. But what if the summons asks you to appear when you are on vacation or you are a caregiver for young children?

What if I Can't Make the Scheduled Time?

When you receive your jury duty summons, the court gives you a date to appear. They give you a phone number or website, so you can check for exact instructions and reporting time.

If you have a conflict such as being out of town, you can reschedule your appearance. Most courthouses have procedures to reschedule online or with the court for a later date. Check with the court to reschedule your reporting date and get a new date.

What if I Can't Serve on the Jury?

Not many potential jurors will have a legitimate reason for not serving on a jury that they'll be excused from jury duty entirely. However, if you have a valid excuse, it might be worth a shot. For example, if you are a full-time student or a primary caregiver to young children, you have valid reasons why you can't serve. You will have to file a hardship claim with the court to excuse your appearance.

Some examples of hardship claims are:

  • You have a serious medical condition.
  • You care for dependents such as young children (under the age of 6).
  • You care for other dependents and don't have alternate arrangements for their care.
  • You don't have transportation.
  • You have a financial hardship.

If you want to claim a hardship for jury duty, you must contact the court with your reasons for why you can't show up for jury duty. You may have to fill out a questionnaire or supply proof of a medical condition or financial hardship.

Note that even if you receive a hardship waiver you can still get a jury summons at a later date.

What Could Disqualify Me as a Juror?

A jury summons does not guarantee that you will be placed on a trial. There are automatic disqualifications for jury duty as well as occasions where they may excuse you from service.

Automatic Disqualifications From Jury Service

If you are an active member of the U.S. military, a member of law enforcement, a firefighter, or a government employee, you are excused from service. Other automatic exemptions are if you:

  • Already served as a juror within the last 12-24 months (depending on location)
  • Are not a U.S. citizen
  • Are under 18 years old
  • Can't speak English
  • Have a felony conviction or are currently charged with a felony
  • Have a disqualifying physical or mental condition

Disqualification Through Voir Dire

You may also be dismissed through voir dire. This is a process during jury selection where potential jurors answer questions about their background and experiences.

The prosecution and defense attorneys (as well as the judge) will ask you questions. They want impartial prospective jurors. Throughout the selection process, they want to know about your occupation and experiences and determine if you could be biased.

For example, they may ask if you were a victim of a crime. If you were beaten and robbed in the past, a criminal defense attorney probably won't want you on a jury trial where the defendant is accused of the same crime. They may also ask questions like if you support the death penalty or if you have heard enough about the case that you couldn't remain impartial.

I Can't Miss Work for Jury Duty, I'll Get Fired!

Employers can't fire you for jury service. However, they may not be obligated to pay for your time off. Ask your employer about their policy for jury duty.

Don't Ignore Your Jury Summons

Missing jury duty has serious consequences. Ignoring the summons and failing to appear risks fines and jail time.

The justice system is based on a trial in front of 12 peers. Consider if you were on trial for criminal charges. You would certainly want a fair trial and impartial jurors to serve on your jury.

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