jury duty for the crazy
January 17, 2010 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Depression and jury duty.

I am just now starting to see the light at the end of my largest depressive cycle's tunnel. I just got summoned for jury duty and realize it is my civic duty to attend, however I am pretty damned sure I am not ready to sit in a courtroom for days and days listening to a trial.

Should I ask for a note from my psychiatrist and/or psychologist? I guess it boils down to me wanting to get out of jury duty. I know this isn't an acceptable excuse and am planning on telling the judge this same thing if I get to the voire dire.

I am not exempt in any other way, primary care provider, etc.
posted by TheBones to Law & Government (13 answers total)
You can ask for an extension/postponement until later.
posted by so_gracefully at 12:31 PM on January 17, 2010

Well, the first thing to note is that the requirements for jury duty service vary by state. Some states allow exceptions that others don't. So don't be too quick to assume that you have no valid excuse.

In any event, if you do go through the jury selection process and are interviewed by the trial's lawyers and/or judge a doctor's note may help. But at the end of the day neither the judge nor the trial's lawyers want someone sitting in the jury box who can't or won't pay attention to the proceedings.
posted by dfriedman at 12:36 PM on January 17, 2010

Yeah, seconding floam. I've been called a few times and only once got seated in a jury. Rest of the time I sat for a couple of hours in a big holding area only to get sent home. Getting picked sucked, but only because the trial was over some real estate fraud deal and it was boring as all hell.

FWIW, the trial went on for 3 or 4 days. I got it deferred once because I was still in school, but then had to do it....over spring break. It was dee-lightful.
posted by jquinby at 12:54 PM on January 17, 2010

nthing that the circumstances vary enormously: by state, by type of trial, by whether or not you actually make it voire dire or just sit in the jury room all day. But in my recent (CA) experience, writing down that I was going to therapy 2x/week during the hours that the trial would be taking place was enough to get me a year's exemption from service.
posted by epugachev at 1:17 PM on January 17, 2010

If you haven't gotten any postponements, first find out if they will let you serve at some different time. You don't even have to say who you are to ask.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:14 PM on January 17, 2010

If, by some chance, you get chosen for voir dire and neither attorney dings you for one reason or another, you will almost certainly be allowed to talk to the judge privately about why you think serving might not be the best thing for you (or the jury) at this point in your life. In the process I went through last spring, everyone who had passed voir dire (by the attorneys) had the opportunity to talk to the judge in chambers about why they might not be a good choice for a jury at that time. Our judge was very clear that while she didn't want people just trying to wiggle out of the process, she did want people who really felt they were both willing and able to serve. Depending on where you are, you might just have to go sit in a room for a day or two while the attorneys work their way through a list of eligible jurors, and you may not be called for voir dire at all, and then you're released.
posted by rtha at 4:55 PM on January 17, 2010

I've been called 5 times in 10 years, and only twice have I even had to go to the courthouse. The other 3 times were canceled before it got to the stage where the called had to come in--is there some notation on your letter where it says to call the day before to see if you have to attend?
posted by thebrokedown at 5:04 PM on January 17, 2010

If you get picked for the jury process and you know it's a criminal matter just say you don't trust cops. That'll get you dinged by the prosecution real quick. Worked for me.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 6:00 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, there is a number to call the day before to find out if I still have to go. I will also call tomorrow to find out if I can postpone to another time. If not, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I can't skip it unless I want a bench warrant out for my arrest. Sitting in a courtroom will drive me to the edge again. I don't know what to do other than to try and express this, though even sitting for a day in the courtroom would push me further than I think I can handle right now.
posted by TheBones at 7:05 PM on January 17, 2010

As others have pointed out - being called for jury duty is not the same as being required to serve on a jury. You will be part of a pool - many of which will not be called before they even get into a courtroom, and those that are called may be challenged for whatever reason the lawyers can come up with. And even then, it may not require days of your time. So it might not happen in the way you envisage, which is definitely the worst case scenario. There are more jury trials over in an afternoon than trials which take days. And you're not alone - there's 12 other people in the same boat.

That said, if you are quite sure you are not up to it, you should absolutely get a note from your psych advisor. If you have the opportunity, reply to the request for jury duty with a copy of their note. Every request for jury duty I've seen (in two countries) has allowed people to provide reasons why they should not be required to serve. It's a doctor's note - they won't dismiss it out of hand. Avoidance of a mistrial is of paramount importance to them.

If you still have to turn up because there isn't time in this situation to mail a response - and you are able to obtain a note. There will be an officer of the court present at all times during the selection process to ensure fairness (unless you live in Uganda or something) - present it to them politely. It's a doctor's note - they won't dismiss it out of hand. Avoidance of a mistrial is of paramount importance to them.

Failing that - wear a Star Trek uniform. But really, a doctors note is all you need. Judges rarely second guess medical professionals.
posted by Sparx at 8:34 PM on January 17, 2010

I get a summons to jury duty every couple of years. If you are not able to serve now, you will get summoned again. It sounds like you are really not able to handle a trial right now. Don't feel guilty about taking care of yourself!!! Get a letter from your doctor or therapist (the letter makes a huge difference vs. just claiming it yourself) and feel comfortable that you will probably not have to spend more than a single day in the courthouse.

First, you may not even have to go in - in California you have to check in twice a day but you may never have to go the court house. If you do have to go, the first thing you will do is spend time in the jury room waiting to be assigned to a case. You may not be get assigned to a case, or you may get assigned but the case gets settled before you ever go to the court room. If you do get a court room, you will be given a number. People are called up 18 a time while the judge and lawyers do a first pass. If they fill the jury before you get called up, you go home. If you do get called up, the judge will let you know when you can talk privately about personal reasons for needing an excuse. In my case, my then high school daughter was struggling with depression and I had a letter from her therapist saying that she needed me at home. I showed the letter to judge at the lunch break, he called the two lawyers over and they call agreed I could go home. (Maybe the fact that I was in tears had some influence but the only other person with a doctor's note also got excused.)
posted by metahawk at 9:29 PM on January 17, 2010

And plan to bring something soothing to occupy you while you are waiting in the jury room - books, knitting, music (w/ headphones), sudoku or crosswords. You can also practice mediation, if you are into that. You have to pay attention (or least look like you are paying attention) in the court room but you can work with your therapist to develop some affirmations or visualization that will help keep you calm. There is really no reason why simply having to be a court house has send you over the edge if you are prepared for it.
posted by metahawk at 9:34 PM on January 17, 2010

It's controversial but worth mentioning: If you start talking about the right to nullify during the selection process, you may find yourself curiously excluded from the final jury. I've heard anecdotal evidence that many judges prefer to keep potential nullifiers out of their courtrooms. Even if you still ended up on a jury, it could be quite useful to know about this obscure power, depending on the case you're seeing.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:41 AM on January 18, 2010

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