Last week’s high-profile trial in Kent County has me thinking about jury duty.  So let’s dig in to some common questions I’ve received about jury duty – the most frequent being “How do I get out of jury duty?” If that’s a question you have, I hope you will reconsider the question after reading this post.

Who is eligible to serve as a juror?  In Michigan, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. Be a United States citizen.
  2. Be at least 18 years old.
  3. Be a resident of the Court district to which you are summoned (if a District Court case) or the County (if a Circuit Court case).
  4. Be able to communicate in the English language.
  5. Be physically and mentally able to carry out the functions of a juror.

What makes you automatically ineligible to serve as a juror?

  1. A felony conviction.
  2. If you have already served on a jury in the last 12 months.

What reasons may excuse you from jury duty?

  1. If you are older than 70 years of age, you can request an age exemption.
  2. Religious holidays.
  3. Beyond that, it’s really up to the Judge.  There are number of other reasons that generally are found to excuse someone from jury duty, or to even postpone it.  The general rule of thumb is “hardship”.  Examples of a hardship that are sometimes found acceptable are situations where you absence from your normal routine would affect another’s care or pose a risk to public health or safety, lack of transportation, extreme financial burden, medical exemption (bring a letter from your Doctor), and being a full-time student (bring a copy of your class schedule and a letter from your teacher(s)).  Again, it is completely up to the Judge’s discretion to allow a hardship exemption.
  4. If you have tickets to a Jonas Brothers show.  Just kidding, this won’t get you excused from jury duty – just checking to see if you’re still reading!

What if I don’t show up?

You can be held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

Can my employer terminate my employment?

By law, an employer cannot fire, or discipline or even threaten such action, against an employee who is summoned for jury duty or chosen to serve on a jury, even for a long trial. Nor can employers force a worker to go beyond normal hours to make up for time spent on jury service. An employer who takes these actions could be guilty of a misdemeanor or held in contempt of court.

How are jurors selected?

Jury selection usually takes a couple of hours for most cases.  Groups of potential jurors are gathered in the courtrooms, and the Judge and the attorneys are allowed to conduct voir dire (a French phrase “to speak the truth”) and ask questions of potential jurors designed to determine their suitability for jury service.

If I serve on a jury, can I discuss the case during the trial?  After the trial?

During the trial, absolutely not, as it could result in a mistrial.  After the trial is concluded and the Judge discharges you from jury duty, you may freely discuss the case with others, but you are under no obligation to do so.  In a high-profile case, the media may want to talk to you, but whether or not you do is your choice.  In addition, the attorneys in the case often find it helpful to talk to the jurors after a case.  I ran into a former juror at Meijer one time, and he wanted to discuss the case with me, which was really enlightening.

Why should you embrace jury duty?

Jury duty is a civic responsibility.  It is a sacred duty for which the founders of our country fought and died.  Indeed, the deprivation of the right to a jury trial was one of the main grievances that factored into the Revolution.  The right to a jury trial has been a cornerstone of our democracy, as the right to a trial by jury is the only right contained in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  It is a check and balance critical to our governmental structure.

I’ve had many family and friends who have served on jury duty.  The comments they make afterwards generally fall along these lines: “I was glad I did it”; “I was so impressed with our system”; “I felt important”; “It was interesting to listen to other jurors and the life experiences that factored into how they viewed the evidence”; and “I hope I get the opportunity to serve again”.

With all of that said, jury duty is a heavy responsibility.  If you are involved as a juror in a criminal case, you may hear things that are shocking, learn about forensic science in a new way, view evidence that is revolting, and even see things that you will never be able to un-see.  My heart broke last week for those jurors involved in the trial in Kent County.  They will never be able to unhear or unsee the evidence that was presented.  So say a prayer for our jurors, and thank them for their service to our community.  They play a critically important role in our democracy.