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

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?

Thanks 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.

MORE: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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • As a third year law student, and someone who knows pretty well what kind of people jury selectors are thanks to my current clerkship, I’ll tell you this: Turn up, wearing a suit and tie, with a briefcase. Talk on your phone in the lobby, and then pretend to start taking notes as soon as selection begins – I can almost guarantee you’ll be excluded straight away. Lawyers don’t like smart, educated juries, it just makes their job harder.

  • OP is an entitled little princess. I’m sure no one else who’s been selected is as inconvenienced as you, right?

    • Exactly. How does the world survive when he goes to sleep at night? What would his entire company do if he was run over by a bus?!! Oh wait, they’d just hire someone else.

      It’s *never* a “good” time to sit on a jury, regardless of your age, experience and job.

      • they can time it so that it is less of a burden.

        also if he was hit by a bus, they wouldn’t have to pay him, they small firm still has to pay him when he is on a jury so yes it is a burden.

  • Sorry but you live in a democracy, that means you as a member of that society has to contribute to it by representing people like yourself in certain situations, such as voting, filling out a Census, and being on a jury. Don’t like it? Move to North Korea.

    • I was born into this mess. I didn’t create it. And if I was on trial I’d rather the judge make the decision. I don’t want some random fool like me having any input.

        • If you don’t like it leave is a poor argument when discussing normative issues.

          • How? this is a Democracy, nothing will change RE: requiring jurors, the only alternative would be to leave.

            No amount of winging to the government will change it.

          • Because merely stating the fact that one can leave, says nothing about what is the optimum normative situation, aka what should be.

            It’s entirely an irrelevant statement.

  • Jury duty is your freaking civic duty. Nobody cares about your career when it comes to (in many cases) someones freedom or lively hood. Grow the fuck up.

  • Apparently I’m exempt from Jury duty as my father is/was in the Police and that I may have a ‘biased’ view towards the matter.

  • Send students instead is a terrible idea. Your ‘career’ is under-way, so delay or damage someone else’s future by making them miss a full semester?

  • Don’t enrol to vote. Two pluses! Don’t need to vote and don’t need to serve as a juror.

    • This! I haven’t been on the Electoral roll for nearly 20 years, don’t have to vote on a corrupt and broken system, and corrupt and broken people in it, and I avoid Jury duty as a bonus.

  • Just tell them you believe that the person is guilty, and should be sentenced to life. Especially for parking infringements. Or say that they are innocent because they look like a nice person. Who cares right? It’s only jury duty.

  • +1 on the whole voting thing. Whatever happened to the government being afraid of its people?

  • I would second the LH response. I would also add, that it needn’t be as bad as you imagine, even when the summons says a 12-week trial. This was my experience:

    First call for jury. The time period was extremely bad for my company (and I’m the only person who fulfils my particular function which is highly specialised). They wrote me a letter requesting exemption, which was granted.

    Second call for jury. I had an interstate contract to fulfil during the period, and (knowing that I was in a jury service year) I’d made a point of booking the travel for it early. Existing travel plans are grounds for exemption.

    Third call for jury. Wasn’t at too bad a time, but was for a very long period, which would again have affected my work responsibilities. So this time, instead of requesting an exemption outright, I had my company write a letter requesting that I be assigned to a shorter trial. I turned up on the appointed day with my letter, and at a certain point in the morning there was an opportunity to make this request. The sheriffs agreed that I, and a number of others in similar positions, be assigned to shorter trials. And so I ended up on a two-week trial – absolutely manageable – instead of an eight-week trial.

    I would also add that I was very glad to have fulfilled my civic duty in this way. It was an interesting experience. Not always comfortable, and quite draining at times, but interesting. My jury group was a wonderfully diverse set of people, but united by a shared sense of responsibility. And we were well looked after (fabulous court officer, who really helped us through the whole process). Sometimes – especially online – it seems as if the only reaction to jury duty is “How can I get out of it?” Well, it’s not always the most convenient thing in the world, but I would say: grow up and embrace the opportunity.

  • I turned up to my first and only Jury Duty the day before an exam for my MBA, which I was doing while working full time. I spent 5 hours in the waiting room studying, then was told (along with about 50 others) that we weren’t needed. Didn’t even set foot in a court room. Was a great day away from the normal distractions!

  • “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)?”

    Man, what a spoiled brat you are.

  • At least you’re not doing it while unemployed. When I handed in my resignation for my last job it was due to stress so didn’t have anything already lined up. Less than a week later I got a notice for jury duty, 12 week case, selection happening 1.5 weeks after my last day at that job.

    I couldn’t exactly job search with a potential 12 weeks of unavailability hanging over my head. I tried and actually got responses essentially laughing at me.

    It finally comes time for the jury duty … only for them to put it back a week.

    It finally comes time for the jury duty … only for them to put it back a week.

    It finally comes time for the jury duty … only for them to put it back 3 days. 1 day. 1 more day, another day. FINALLY they say we’re not needed at all.

    That’s over 2 months of not searching for a new job all because I had a potential 12 weeks of jury duty hanging over my head.

    A month later, the _exact_ same thing happened again. All up 5 months of being jobless, 4 of which I can’t even bloody look, all due to potential 12 weeks of jury duty hanging over my head.

    Thank goodness I had savings, though those hit absolute zero one week before I started the job I now have. Thankfully I was able to borrow money from friends/family to get me through to my first paycheque.

  • Disclaimer: My experience is based on NSW. Your Mileage May Vary
    I was placed on the role earlier this year, I don’t mind fulfilling my civic duty and was actually looking forward to the experience but as luck would have it, My summons coincided with fairly important events to me;
    -My first summons coincided with an interstate trip we had planned, I emailed a letter explaining this and attached our travel bookings and was excused.
    -My second summons about 3 months later coincided almost perfectly with me having to present at CeBit, I’d read that you cant write a letter twice so I went to jury duty on my summoned date with a view that I would play the “He’s Guilty no matter what” card if I got selected. We got called into a case but before it came to selection, the judge actually asked us if anyone had any reasons to be excused, I explained my position to the judge and he was more than happy to excuse me. They are very serious about preventing time wasting by jurors becoming unavailable after the case has started (As they have to reboot with a new jury). Still got payed for the day…

  • I’ve never been called, my wife has been twice (though never progressed further than waiting in the room).

    I cant sit down on a regular chair for more than 2 hours without getting a sore but/back (another reason i don’t go to the cinema much as i’m squirming after 60 to 90mins, i would be quite the distraction in the court room.

    I also think their approach of getting so many people and make them wait then send them home sounds rather inefficient and wasteful. If the waiting area was nice and accommodating (and had lockers for storing valuables) I’m sure people would be less objectionable, perhaps free public transport.

  • Is it possible to volunteer for jury duty? I think it’s a fascinating system, I’d love to do my civic duty, and after day 11 the pay is actually better than what I’m making at the moment. (Plus, a break from my job at this point wouldn’t be a bad thing.)

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