Written by Tony Chiaramonte on 01/15/2021

What Happens if You Miss Jury Duty?

Most people don’t jump with joy when they receive a jury duty summons in the mail. However, the civil courts and criminal justice system rely on jurors to resolve cases. Jury service is a civic duty that can’t be ignored — at least not without a good reason. 

The question often comes up: “What happens if I don’t show up for jury duty”?

Across the United States, jury duty is a civic responsibility for everyone at least 18 years old. Every jurisdiction has different laws, and there’s no real way to know when or how often someone will receive a jury summons. 

However, if you do receive a jury summons, it shouldn’t be ignored. 

If you don’t show up when summoned for jury duty, you may get in trouble with the court. In some cases, you could even face criminal charges or other serious consequences.

The jury selection process

Intentionally ignoring a jury summons can get you into trouble — but merely receiving a jury duty summons doesn’t mean you’ll be chosen for the jury, or even end up in the jury pool. 

In fact, most potential jurors who are summoned don’t end up sitting on a jury.

When you arrive for jury duty selection, you’ll fill out a questionnaire. How you answer the questions will determine whether you’re eligible to serve on the jury. Potential jurors are often asked questions by the judge or by lawyers for both the prosecution and defense.

Those who aren’t selected typically will be sent home. Those who are selected need to be available for the duration of the trial. Once a trial starts, it’s difficult to get excused from the jury.

Consequences of not showing up for a jury summons

Missing jury duty can result in serious consequences, even the first time you skip it. Generally, two factors determine what you’ll face for missing jury duty: 

  1. The first is the law in the state where you live. Some states have much harsher penalties for missing jury duty. 

  2. The second, and perhaps more important, factor is the judge before whom you appear. Ultimately, judges have discretion on how to handle someone who misses jury duty.

Ranked from least serious to most serious, below is a list of things that can happen when you skip jury duty:

  • Nothing at all. This is perhaps the most common outcome when someone forgets about jury duty or intentionally ignores a jury summons. However, it’s not wise to assume that the court won’t take further action.

  • You may be summoned again quickly. Each state has varying rules on how often someone is legally obligated to serve on a jury. If you don’t show up, most states let the court bypass the waiting period and summon you again for a new date. 

  • The judge may issue an order to show cause. An order to show cause is a legal order requiring someone to appear in court and explain why they did (or did not) do something. If you miss jury duty, a court can issue such an order, requiring you to appear and provide your reason for missing jury duty. 

If you receive an order to show cause, you may want to meet with a qualified criminal defense attorney for legal advice and help in preparing for the hearing.

  • The court may issue a bench warrant. In some states, the court can issue a bench warrant if you miss jury duty or fail to show up for subsequent days after you’re appointed. 

If a bench warrant is issued, a police officer or other law enforcement officer will visit the address the court has on file. If they find you, they can put you in custody and escort you to court.

  • You may need to appear before the judge. If the judge issues a bench warrant or an order to show cause, you will eventually need to appear in court. 

You may be ordered to pay a fine, ranging from $100 to $1,000. In some cases, you might be held in contempt of court and ordered to perform community service or even serve jail time.

Valid reasons for missing jury duty

When you receive a jury summons for state or federal court in the mail, you can ask not to serve. 

Of course, you must give a valid excuse to be let out of jury duty, and you must also reach out in advance. Also know that if you request a postponement of jury service, you’re likely to receive another summons in the future. 

What constitutes a valid reason can vary from state to state, but a few potential reasons are:

  • Financial hardship — If serving on a jury would cause you to suffer undue hardship, you may be excused in advance.

  • Medical reasons — If you can’t safely sit through a jury trial for medical reasons, you may be excused from jury duty.

  • Student status — Students who receive a summons for jury duty are typically excused if jury service would interfere with their studies. 

  • Dependent care — If you take care of someone else and you can’t make other arrangements for their care, you may be excused.

While these reasons may justify an absence after the fact, it’s much easier to inform the court of any issues well before the date you’re supposed to appear. 

If you’re unsure whether you might qualify for an exemption, speak with a qualified lawyer.

Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney

If you think you may be facing consequences for missing jury duty, consider reaching out to a qualified criminal defense attorney for legal advice. 

Most attorneys who handle criminal cases will offer prospective clients a free consultation, where they will answer your questions and explain how they may be able to help. 

As with most potential problems, taking action in advance is the best way to prevent the issue from ballooning into something more serious.

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