Consequences for skipping jury service in US District Court?
July 27, 2013 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I have been called as a potential juror in a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, 200 miles and four hours south. I'm on the very far north edge of a federal court zone. For two weeks I have to call at 7pm and be ready to appear in L.A. at 11am the next day. This is my second notice. I filled out a questionnaire for the first, and now it appears that my request for an excuse has been denied. I am a responsible person - I've appeared many times for local jury duty - but I'm also practical. Arranging travel to L.A. on less than eight hours AND being on call to do so for two weeks is a huge disruption in my life. What are the consequences if I just ignore this?
posted by letitrain to Law & Government (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When was the last time you served on a local jury? You're usually given a reprieve from that and federal juries for a period of time.
posted by dfriedman at 12:11 PM on July 27, 2013

Response by poster: dfriedman, I've never actually served. I've only appeared several times.
posted by letitrain at 12:17 PM on July 27, 2013

The consequences: a U.S. Marshal comes to your house and arrests you. You are taken before the judge or a magistrate and given an opportunity to explain. If you don't have a very good explanation, you may be jailed or fined. You do not want to take that route.
posted by megatherium at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

From 28 USC § 1866:

"(g) Any person summoned for jury service who fails to appear as directed may be ordered by the district court to appear forthwith and show cause for failure to comply with the summons. Any person who fails to show good cause for noncompliance with a summons may be fined not more than $1,000, imprisoned not more than three days, ordered to perform community service, or any combination thereof."

Enforcement may vary by jurisdiction, but just ignoring it is probably not a great idea.

The feds will reimburse you for "reasonable travel expenses." Given your distance, this could include a hotel--probably better to investigate that than skipping out.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: megatherium, what is the probability of that actually happening? Edit: of course nobody knows... just trying to figure out if that's a hollow threat or if it actually occurs on a regular basis.
posted by letitrain at 12:19 PM on July 27, 2013

So, I was for some reason like top of the list for jury duty. (I got summoned like 4 times in a year and was only excused twice, then got out during the selection.) When I showed up once, the judge said, "I'm guessing you are wondering what happens to the people who didn't show up today. Well, they will be the first on the list for the next rotation!" (This was in MT.)

And, as others have stated, you can be fined or jailed. I'm not sure how often they fine or jail people, however I would assume that they don't want you to know that info so they can keep it as a consequence. But if you aren't going to go after you know they could fine or jail you - which again, can happen - then you may get even more jury summonses in the next rounds of selection. Then you will be starting the process all over again.

Do you have time to write another excusal letter? (Generally they need a few days to process.)
What did you write in your letter? Did you fully explain that there was undue hardship to travel that distance? If they don't reimburse anything but your milage, then you may have able to write in how much it would cost you and that you don't have the money to attend for selection, let alone a case.

I was able to be excused for being in college and not having a vehicle to go to the courthouse. Then once that excusal period ended I got 2 more that I had to attend and couldn't be excused from - even though I wrote in that I was the sole income earner and didn't get paid for jury duty. I still had to appear.

I suggest appearing, then trying to write a great excusal letter to get yourself out of rotation completely or for a temporary period. Talk to someone while you are in the courthouse for this appearance to see how best to try to get an excusal.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:29 PM on July 27, 2013

Lawyer here who practices in federal court. Listen to megatherium and HonoriaGlossop. If you ignore the summons, some nice men with badges will come to your house for a conversation that you will not enjoy.

Have you ever heard someone say, "don't make a federal case out of it"? It is not because the federal court system can be safely ignored.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:29 PM on July 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

Here in NC, just being called to serve-in other words, having to show up but not being picked for a jury-enables me to be free from service for two years.

But no, you do not want to blow off a jury summons.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:30 PM on July 27, 2013

According to the website, since you live more than 80 miles away, they will pay you a daily "subsistence fee" meant to cover your hotel plus meals. Information here.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:33 PM on July 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Anecdata: I ignored a jury summons in Oakland once and nothing happened to me.
posted by number9dream at 12:34 PM on July 27, 2013

Response by poster: Crystalinne, thanks for the great answer. I'm trying to avoid even appearing, let alone serving. I haven't even considered what kind of hardship it would be to have to stay in a hotel for the duration of a federal trial.

Has anyone here ever actually had an officer show up for them or someone they know?
posted by letitrain at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2013

Response by poster: insectosaurus, thanks for that link. "Come prepared to stay at least 4 days." Who can serve on these that is not retired?
posted by letitrain at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2013

megatherium, what is the probability of that actually happening? Edit: of course nobody knows... just trying to figure out if that's a hollow threat or if it actually occurs on a regular basis.
posted by letitrain at 2:19 PM on July 27
[+] [!]

Just the other day I saw two prospective jurors who ignored a jury summons brought into court. The judge looked very irritated when the court staff informed him who they were. He grimly called a recess and they were taken back to his chambers. I'm not sure what happened after that.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:50 PM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing the advice against just ignoring it... it hasn't happened to me, but one of my sisters ignored her notice (local, not federal court; in Arlington, Virginia) because, as she said, "It's my day off work and I just don't feel like doing it". (What can I say: my sister was an idiot.)

Yes, she received a nice visit from two very polite gents with badges. Yes, she received a fine --- she said $50, but she was always a serious liar so I've never believed that amount --- plus another notice to appear.

If you have the time, what you might do is ask your employer to write a letter to the court, explaining that it would be a hardship to both you and the company to have you gone. But no: do not ignore the summons.
posted by easily confused at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2013

Response by poster: A severe paddling in the judges chambers? Thanks, Unified Theory, for confirming that it actually does occur.
posted by letitrain at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2013

I live in Southern California and recently served on a Federal jury. The Federal summons does not have the same hardship provisions as the County Superior Court. You are expected to show up and serve if selected. I am very busy with my work and family, but managed to serve on the 5 day trial without any long term consequences to either. It actually turned out to be an interesting and somewhat rewarding experience. The one person on the Jury who lived a significant distance away was given the option of paid hotel, in addition to the travel reimbursement and free parking provided.

If you get called to report, you will have an opportunity to tell the judge and lawyers of any reasons that you think you can not fairly serve on the trial. Whether or not you get excused will depend on the circumstances and the judge. In our case, 45 people were called and 13 were selected (12 + 1 alternate).
posted by The Architect at 1:31 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The Architect, I feel the same about local jury service - it's the distance and short notice that's the problem in this case. I am juggling the cost of a last-minute flight over at minimum 8 hours of driving, not to mention interruption to work, family and life.
posted by letitrain at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2013

Anecdotally -- and speaking as a person who actually enjoys jury duty, because I find it fascinating and important -- my brother was able to arrange an excusal from his jury duty summons by calling the courthouse and speaking to an actual person. This is also in Los Angeles County -- although I don't believe it was Federal Court -- and his reasons were, IMO, somewhat less compelling than yours. It can't hurt to try.

Additionally, if you can postpone your service, in my experience, the weeks around Christmas you're less likely to even be called in, because there are seemingly fewer cases kicking off at the very end of the year. That's a risk, but you can try it and just cross your fingers you won't have to report at all.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:41 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, when was the last time you were *called in* for local jury duty, even if you did not actually serve? Here's why I ask:

About a decade ago, I received a jury duty summons for local court (NYC). It was summertime and there weren't many cases, so very few potential jurors were even questioned for a panel (aka "voir dire"). After two or three days of sitting around the courthouse without being called for voir dire once, I was given a stamped document saying I had met my obligations and was sent home. Near as I can recall, it was the exact same piece of paper I had received some years earlier when I actually *had* served on a jury in the same court system.

A few weeks later, as luck would have it, I received a summons for a federal jury. When I got there, I showed them my freshly-issued state court "proof of service" document and was immediately excused. (By a clerk. I didn't have to talk to a judge or anything, and there were no questions asked.)

So even if you weren't actually empaneled on a jury (or weren't voir dire'd), just showing up ought to count as service. So if that's happened to you recently, and you were given some kind of proof of service document that I describe above, I'd take that to federal court. They should hopefully honor that, if my experience is anything to go by. If it's been more than, I dunno, a year or so (totally arbitrary guess), it may not work, but you can certainly try.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you pointed out how frequently you have been called, and how much this disrupts your life and business life. Are you the sole support of yourself and others? Is there hardship? Is there any chance that you can "age out"? The age limit is 70 in Oregon.
posted by Cranberry at 2:22 PM on July 27, 2013

If you decide to serve and live by the coast you can get to LA on the Surfliner. Beats driving and most likely cheaper than flying.
posted by birdherder at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I really appreciate all of the answers. Still not sure what I'll do, but "ignore" has been removed as an option.
posted by letitrain at 2:50 PM on July 27, 2013

More anecdata: when i served jury duty about two years ago, I told the people who signed me in, with great embarrassment, that I had gotten a summons about a decade earlier and not responded to it.

They thanked me for fessing up and thanked me for showing up this time. This is in Florida, YMMV, et cetera, but I did not get scolded by any men with badges.

I only was there for a day; I had to disqualify myself during the voir dire, and after that I wasn't called on any other panels for selection. That apparently was enough civic duty, since at the end of the day we were told that we were all excused from jury duty for the next year. I haven't received a summons since. (If I get one next week, letitrain, I am blaming you.)
posted by cmyk at 3:37 PM on July 27, 2013

Another anecdote: My room mate got a federal summons and put the wrong day into google calendar. By the time she realized this, the actual date had passed. She sheepishly asked for "hypothetical" advice from our lawyer neighbor and was told that missing jury duty was very rarely acted on (and she should not call and confess, obviously, because that would invite attention and definitely not talk to police in any circumstances). I lived with her another two years and nothing ever happened.

We were in college then. I'm pretty sure you have a boatload of employment rights while serving on a jury -- it may not be as bad as you think. I don't know, I think smart and engaged citizens serving on trials is really, really important right now.
posted by sweltering at 3:59 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

letitrain: "Has anyone here ever actually had an officer show up for them or someone they know?"

I worked a tiny little bit on a case where a recalcitrant juror first didn't show up, then after being dragged in by the police tried all the stupid tricks during voir dire to get himself excused. The judge jailed him for contempt of court for the duration of the trial they were attempting to seat a jury for.

Employers look less kindly on jail for contempt than on jury duty. :P
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:22 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, my ex (criminal justice major, son of a cop) has ignored EVERY jury duty summons he's ever gotten, because he says they can't PROVE that you received it (it could have been lost in the mail, stolen out of your mailbox, etc), so they can't actually hold you to it. I've challenged him numerous times on this point, but he is absolutely convinced that he is correct, and he's been blowing off jury duty for 22 years now without any repercussions. This is in northern California.
posted by désoeuvrée at 6:34 PM on July 28, 2013

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