Ask LH: Can I Be Permanently Exempted From Jury Service?

Dear Lifehacker, I received a summons for jury service back in May for five weeks, and my company managed to provide evidence that I was needed so I did not have to go. But now I’ve received another summons, this time for 12 weeks. I find this really ridiculous, because this would mean a possibility of not going to my day job for almost three months.

I’m a young IT professional in my second year at my current post, and because of the small project team that I’m working in, we are quite short on resources. So I’m juggling between multiple clients constantly. I’m also one of the most knowledgeable people about the company’s product. Taking any extended leave (more than 1.5 weeks) is totally out of the question for me.

Really, don’t they have better candidates than pulling out young professionals from their work? The first couple of years is their most critical stage of career building. Why couldn’t they pick people on welfare, the elderly or university students (especially those who are studying law or forensics)?

Is any way I can be removed from the Jury Service candidate list (if possible, permanently) without staying overseas or try to get myself a criminal record?

Jury Noted

Jury picture from Shutterstock

Dear JN,

The short and general answer to your question is: no, you can’t be permanently blocked from potential jury service simply because you feel it would be an inconvenience to your career. If that was possible, a large proportion of people summoned would do it. There are mechanisms in each state that allow you to defer serving on a jury, as you’ve discovered, but that doesn’t take you off the active roll for that year, and so the chances are relatively high that you may be called in again.

The judicial system in each state does include provision to exclude various classes of professions (doctors and lawyers amongst them), people in circumstances of hardship or illness or individuals who have already served on juries, and the discretion to do this ultimately rests with the sheriff or other officials. It isn’t my job to make that call and the rules vary slightly depending on where you live, but I suspect “I’m in a vital stage of my professional development” is not going to rate very highly on the list of priorities regardless of location.

You argue that the early years of your career shouldn’t be interrupted, but I bet that’s not the only excuse that gets trotted out. A senior executive might claim that dozens of other people rely on their judgement; someone nearing retirement might suggest that they don’t want their final period of working disrupted. The case needs to be a bit more compelling and specific than that.

You say that it would be impossible for you to be away from work for more than a week. Leaving aside the all-too-present likelihood of burnout, what happens if you die in a car crash tomorrow? If your employer couldn’t survive that scenario, then the business isn’t particularly well-managed. Conversely, if they could survive that scenario, they can survive you being on a jury. (And really, how did the business manage before you were there?)

As for your suggestion that people without full-time work should be prioritised over the currently-employed, that isn’t how the system works, and for good reason. The sole qualification for being on the potential jurors’ list is being on the electoral role; that ensures that the whole of society can be represented, not just specific sub-groups. The retired, the unemployed and students can all potentially be on juries, as can IT professionals and retail workers and chefs. A large proportion of the population works; it would be unrepresentative for that group not to be present in the jury system.

Another thought: People in the groups you suggest are also entitled to ask to be exempted from a specific call-up. A retired person might have health issues, or already have paid for overseas travel. An unemployed person might not have any access to child care. Students are generally studying to a fixed timetable and often have compulsory lectures and seminars to attend. It mildly smacks of elitism to suggest that your career needs are automatically more important than any of those scenarios.

Should I Mention Jury Duty On My Resume?

This response may seem a little harsh, but the jury system is there to ensure that the voice of the whole population is represented in the legal system. In the big picture, that’s more important than a couple of months in your career, which is likely to go on for another forty years or more.

Your employer can certainly apply again and argue for your essential role in the organisation (and possibly for economic hardship if it’s a small firm),. However, if that doesn’t happen, embrace the opportunity (and also remember even showing up on the day doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually end up on a jury — I know far more people who have headed in but then not being selected). Whatever happens, use it as a chance to broaden your knowledge — experience outside the office can also be useful for your career and personal development.


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