Matthew Minner | February 7, 2021 | Personal Injury
Most Americans dread it: that envelope in the mail delivering a steaming fresh summons for jury duty. What a hassle!
Can’t you just skip it? Anyone who’s gotten a summons may have asked themselves: “What happens if I don’t show up for jury duty?” If you don’t show up for jury duty, you could face consequences like contempt of court. Here’s why it’s important to appear for jury duty.
What is a Jury and Why is it Important?
Long ago in legal history, a single person (the judge) held all the authority to make decisions about legal disputes. To ensure the fairness of trials, the law adopted the use of a “jury of one’s peers,” instead of a single judge.
A jury of people with similar stations in life as the parties involved in the dispute is more likely to come to a fair decision than a single person removed from the struggles of daily life. It is both a privilege and a civic duty to serve as a juror when called upon.
How Was I Selected for Jury Duty?
A jury is made up of jurors.
In Kentucky, a county’s master list of prospective jurors include:
- Persons over the age of 18 and holding an ID or driver’s license issued in the county
- Persons filing Kentucky-resident individual income taxes with an address in the county
- Persons registered to vote in the county
Most cases settle before trial. That means if someone has requested a trial before a jury, the facts are hotly disputed.
Is a Jury Guaranteed in Both Civil and Criminal Cases?
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States assures criminal defendants the right to a trial by an impartial jury. In other words, a jury of one’s peers. Since a person accused of a crime faces the potential loss of life or liberty, their right to a trial by an impartial jury is protected.
In many civil cases, parties are allowed to request a jury, as well. Although jury trials are not guaranteed in civil cases, a jury will be provided if a party timely requests a jury trial and makes the deposit required by the local court rules.
What Does a Juror Do?
A juror is part of a group of people who listens to evidence in a case. What kind of cases? It depends on what kind of juror you have been called to serve on.
A grand jury listens to evidence presented by the prosecutor in a criminal case. A grand jury decides whether or not to indict. To indict is to bring a formal criminal charge against a person.
A petit jury listens to evidence in civil or criminal cases pending before the district court or circuit court. A district court petit jury is made of 6 jurors while a circuit court petit jury has 12.
In civil cases, jurors decide disputes between two or more parties, which can be individuals or corporations. Jurors may decide who was at fault for a car accident and how much money the victim’s family should get in a wrongful death case.
In a criminal case, of course, jurors decide whether a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high burden for the state’s prosecutor to meet, but only a jury can hold the state to its duty to meet this burden before punishing a person.
So What Happens If I Don’t Show Up For Jury Duty?
Failure to appear as summoned for jury duty, or leaving jury duty without the court’s permission, can be punished by contempt of court. Contempt of court can include up to a $500 fine.
Are There Valid Excuses for Skipping Jury Duty? I Have to Work!
Kentucky law prohibits employers from firing or threatening an employee due to a jury duty summons. Employers do not have to pay you on days you miss during jury service.
Courts can delay service for a breastfeeding mother. If you have a medical condition, or otherwise feel that serving on a jury would create a hardship for you, you can request a delay or exemption. You should do this in writing before or in-person on the day you are called.
Of course, if you are selected for jury duty, you cannot be called again for a 24-month period (two years) after completion of your jury duty service. One reason to complete your jury duty is so you don’t have to worry about jury duty for a while!