(Elements from Shutterstock)

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To Serve or Not to Serve

How do all of these Californians get out of jury duty?

Back Web Only Jul 13, 2015 By Coral Henning

Hi Law Librarian, I recently came across a study that claims one in five Californians fail to report for jury duty. It made me wonder, what are the ramifications for ignoring a summons? Also, are there legal ways to avoid serving? ​During our busiest times, my boss prohibits us from taking time off. Plus, I get paid based on the hours I work, so if I miss work, either my income will take a hit for the week or I will have to use up my scarce vacation days.

This question comes up for most people at some point in their working lives, often at the worst possible time. For those of us whose pay depends on being at work between certain hours, there’s never really a good time to take unplanned time off. If your jury service notice comes at a particularly bad time, though, you do have the option of rescheduling for a better date. There are also a few valid excuses, which must be approved by the court ahead of time.

The study you saw was probably “Do Californians Answer the Call to Serve on a Jury? A Report on California Rates of Jury Service Participation,” from California Citizens against Lawsuit Abuse. CALA and several other groups submitted requests through the Public Records Act regarding rates of juror response to the 15 California counties with the largest populations and issued the study in May of this year. (By the way, Sacramento had one of the lowest “no-show” rates of the counties surveyed: 7.41 percent, compared to about 30 percent in Los Angeles and San Diego, and the top rate of 45.66 percent in Ventura County.)

Take our poll: What do you do when the summons comes?

Jurors who fail to appear without rescheduling or being excused are in contempt of court and can be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned for up to five days or both per California Code of Civil Procedure §§ 1209(11), 1218. The judge has an alternative, however: Under CCP § 209(b), the judge can sanction the juror with a fine of $250 for a first violation, $750 for a second and $1,500 for a third or any subsequent violation. These amounts can be waived or reduced if they impose undue hardship upon the juror, or in the interests of justice. Judges will sometimes reduce the fine if the juror agrees to serve on an upcoming date.

As a practical matter, the consequences of failure to appear to vary from county to county. In some counties, the court might not have a system set up to follow up on absent jurors, and there is no consequence at all. Alameda County, which has historically failed to punish absent jurors, is experimenting with a reminder system: Jurors who fail to appear first get a reminder call, then a new appearance date with a schedule of potential fines. If they still fail to comply, a fine is issued. Los Angeles has a similar system.

In Sacramento, an absent juror may get a notice of Failure to Appear in the mail. If the juror ignores that notice, a bench warrant may be issued. This may show up if the juror is pulled over while driving and can lead to arrest and having your car towed. If the juror responds to the notice, the court may simply reschedule the juror, issue a lower fine, or issue the first-violation fine of $250 (or the higher fines if the juror is a repeat offender).  

So how can you legally avoid serving? As mentioned above, you can request a one-time postponement of up to six months (one year for breastfeeding mothers). This does not put you back in the jury lottery; it is an actual rescheduling, and you will be expected to appear on the new date without further notice. Postponements of up to 90 days can be requested online; longer stays must be requested in writing. There should be information about this on your jury summons or the county court website.

An eligible person may be excused (rather than postponed) only for undue hardship to themselves or the public per CCP § 204(b). Hardship can include personal obligation to care for another without the financial capability to hire a substitute; extreme financial burden preventing the juror’s ability to support self or family, physical or mental condition that would cause undue risk of physical or mental hardship (this requires a doctor’s note), lack of transportation and the total public transit commute time exceeds one and a half hours, having served on a jury within the past 18 months or active military service.

Certain people are ineligible. Jurors must be U.S. citizens, 18 years old and have a sufficient understanding of English. They must also be a current resident of the county that has summoned them. People who are current grant jurors, under conservatorship, convicted felons or malfeasors, or peace officers are disqualified as well per CCP § 203. If any of those are true, contact the court.

As to your last question, employers cannot legally prohibit employees from taking time off for jury duty or penalize them for attending. California Labor Code § 230. Employers are not required to pay jurors for the time off, but some do. Check with your manager or human resources department. (Exempt employees, who are paid a salary rather than hourly rate, must be paid for the week if they work any hours that week per 29 CFR 541.602.) If your employer has questions about their obligation to you, there is information available on the California Courts’ website.

By the way, if you do get paid for jury duty days, you will probably have to sign your court pay (currently a skimpy $15/day) over to the employer.

One last note: There is currently a telephone scam operating in some California counties. Callers pretending to be court employees warn the recipient that they have a warrant out for failure to appear for jury duty, and offer to take care of it over the phone with a credit card. The courts are warning Californians not to fall for this scam. In Sacramento, court employees never contact jurors by phone, only by mail. If you receive such a call, you should report it to your county’s Jury Commissioner’s office. In Sacramento, the phone number is 916.874.7775.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email comstocks@saclaw.org.


Gina Burton (not verified)July 13, 2015 - 9:25am

The jury summons I received in the USA constitutes tyranny - because it came with threats of incarceration/fines, and responding to it with fully verifiable reasons that I cannot ever comply met with rejection. No amount of payment would enable me to "serve", and I have lost my peace of mind over this and it has exacerbated my health issues. Fully informed juries would be a good thing, but to aim for blind justice, ignorant jurors, and jurors obtained through tyrannical threat is no different than a criminal holding a knife to a victim's throat. The jury system clearly does not work when 25% at best respond to summons. The system is wrong, and I'd like nothing better than to see it disintegrate so that I can know that my household will be left alone and I can regain my equilibrium.

I will never respond to a summons again, and I also realize that *compliance* is the aim of the system, not "punishment". Therefore, even though I clearly explained our household income (verifiable), if we should be fined, we will pay the fine - with the rent money, if that's what it takes. The law requires that a form be included to request exemption from the fine, but I know that it is just another way to get a *promise* to show up for voir dire and I will not engage with these horrible people. They make me sick, literally. If only they would let us know that we are free and permanently excused. But that would make them decent, wouldn't it?

Visitor (not verified)July 16, 2015 - 11:05am

What makes you so "special" that laws don't apply? Reporting for a jury duty summons is a requirement as a U.S. citizen. You make me sick!

Visitor (not verified)September 11, 2017 - 4:23pm

Nobody should be forced or threatened to do anything
They don't believe in or anything they don't wanna do
Can the government legaly rape you no they shouldn't be able to force you to serve as a juror
It's the same thing( forcING you against your will)that's a crime it's illegal .we pay taxes so we allready pay there salarys.there's plenty of people who volunteer they need to leave who don't want to or don't believe in serving alone it's one of there many ways rip us off of our hard earned money in reality they should hire people to be jurors that would solve alot of unemployment problems instead there greedy and have to try ripping us off every way thy can

Visitor (not verified)May 3, 2016 - 8:49pm

Apologists for various forms of conscription by state thugs make me sick. All too many, but more and more are wising up. I really get tired of people deciding what others should do. Mind your own business.

Visitor (not verified)October 7, 2016 - 8:18am

Does anyone know of legal action taken against the courts systems for abuse of over-request of jurors? I just received my 4th jury summons that covers a time period of only 8 years. Each time, I have complied with my obligation to show up, fortunately never having to actually serve. Yes, I have checked both DMV and voter registration to make sure they match. But this is clearly NOT a random selection. My husband has not received a jury summons in the last 25 years. What is going on here?! I feel this is completely unfair!

Visitor (not verified)March 21, 2017 - 12:38pm

You're definitely right it's not a random selection. My entire family and friends keep receiving jury summons. I was just with discussion with my mother and asking her why does one our family keep receiving jury summons and all these people living in Los Angeles County? Something is definitely wrong.

Visitor (not verified)March 21, 2017 - 12:27pm

We live within Los Angeles County, because my adult daughter who doesn't work full-time and her employer doesn't pay the employees for jury duty, she ignore the previous two jury summons last year in 2016. This year last month of February, she receive by certified mail a sanction notice and was unable to postpone, she was told she must appear on March 22, 2017 today and if she didn't next month in April, she will have to appear before a judge for a no cause hearing. Today, the sanction notice state to show up at 8:00am. She was rushing to get to our courthouse than once she arrive there's a notice on the door that say courthouse open at 8:15am. She wait inside the courthouse for about 4-5 house when she arrive home she tell me a lady than tell her and a group of people they don't have to serve. My daughter miss work and pay for today to be told she doesn't have to serve. The court doesn't even pay her and everyone who appear for 1/2 day. That's wrong. They really need to change jury service process.

SFIII (not verified)July 24, 2017 - 10:35am

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are tossed around in every major jury trial and yet the courts don't have a few bucks to toss the way of a jury member to offset their living costs?! $15 is insulting. There should be a standard wage for jury duty that is adjusted for local cost of living. So, for example, in the Bay Area or NYC, it might be as high as $200/day, whereas in rural locations, more like $100/day. In any case, they can waste money punishing people with threats and fines, or they can use the 'carrot' approach and actually start paying jurors enough to survive the experience financially. Any alternative is institutional racism and sexism, as women and people of color generally make less and for them it is a greater hardship.

Gary Evans (not verified)December 17, 2017 - 9:44am

It amazes me how many people don't have the courage to put their real name in their comments.

As a citizen of the United States jury duty is one of the requirements. Other countries force their residents into military service. No draft, no getting out of it, you have to go. Period. Or they kill you. A vast difference between that and the United States system. Perhaps the people complaining about jury duty should go live in one of those countries?

I've been called for jury duty 6 times in my life. I've complied with the requirements and responded to all of them. I have yet to serve on a jury.

My belief is that if you're called for jury duty and you failed to respond you deserve whatever punishment you receive. It's not like you were not aware in advance what the punishment will be if you do not respond so if you're punished it's your own fault.

Even though not properly reflected by the current Administration, the United States provides a lot of benefits for its citizens so jury duty as a requirement to me is a miniscule payment for the benefits I receive.

It is my duty as a citizen of the United States to fulfill my obligations to the country. One of those obligations is jury duty.

Admittedly, there are some people who receive more summonses than others but for the most part they usually never serve.

I'll leave you with this thought. If you were charged with a crime that you did not commit, would you want paid jurors or professional jurors deciding the outcome of your fate or would you prefer to have 12 of your peers as citizens of the United States?

Visitor (not verified)December 26, 2018 - 8:02pm

RE Gary Evans
1. I did not ask to be born in America, so requiring me to do anything for the right to be alive in this hell hole is illogical. I know people in European countries with better safety nets for their citizens that don't mandate jury service nor military service. I'd love to move there, but I can't afford it...and our junk public schools didn't teach me a foreign language fluently enough to get a job there.
2. I have received 9 summons in 11 years. I had to go in 4 times. I served more than 1 day once. It is difficult for me to serve due to a crappy public transportation system and being unable to drive due to health reasons, so when I get a summons (or when I know a summons is probably going to show up soon) I have anxiety for a month. My dad gets a summons as often as he us eligible. He's been on 2 truals in the past 4 years. Meanwhile my husband never gets summons. If it is random, they have a crappy software program for shuffling the deck. Some people shouldn't get them like clockwork while others never do. That system needs reform. I shouldn't be able to guess when my next summons is coming. It's not my annual physical.
3. Defendants don't really get a jury of their peers. I realized this the last time I was in jury selection. The man on trial was homeless. Ever see a homeless person on a jury? Nope. No address, no summons. The average middle class person who shows up for jury duty has no concept of life as a homeless person. They are not a peer. They are probably going to come into the case with severe biases that the judge will pressure them to down play during voir dire or that they are too embarrassed to admit out loud. What I say for homeless defendants goes for others. Considering how many black men are incarcerated, a black male defendant is probably going to be tried by a bunch of white people. These juries aren't really random slices of the American pie. They are people like me and my dad who gets summons over and over and over and can actually afford to show up

Visitor (not verified)November 30, 2019 - 11:35pm

1) Sorry you were born American. Feel free to find another country more suitable to your liking, or participate in our government and change how we do things.
2) 9 times in 11 years? If you serve, there should be at least 18 months between each summons. Learn how to use a calendar and simply schedule an appropriate time frame. I've been summoned at least a dozen times and I've yet to have to do more than show up at the courts for two days in a row. If you can't fill out a form to say that your last summons was performed X months ago, therefore you should be excused, then that's your issue.
3) Defendants and peers - Again, come on down and work to improve the system. Help redefine peers - and what consequences it'd bring if you did have 12 homeless people on a jury for a homeless person, for breaking and entering, as an example. At least 11 of them would justify this act in their own minds, as a method of survival or common daily acts, such as speeding up as a light starts to turn red.

jobette apathy (not verified)June 4, 2020 - 1:57pm

It is so wrong to be penalized by having to serve on a jury for speaking and understanding the English language. When there are people who have permanent U.S. citizenship and do not speak nor understand the English language. If this is a criteria for serving a jury, then this must also be a criteria for U.S. citizenship and being allowed to live in the U.S. This so hypocritical and unjust there are no words I can use to describe my outrage!!!