Most of us know a little bit about what being a juror really means. Some of us have a fictionally inflated version of what a jury is, compliments of Franklin, Bash, Ice-T and William Shatner. But what is being a juror, really?
There are questions upon questions surrounding how jury duty works; what is jury duty? How did I get picked? Why do I have to serve as a juror? The list goes on. You can find a reasonably fulfilling answer to most of these (and many more) questions here. However, the purpose of this post is not to provide you with an outline of all things jury related, but to delve into the monetary underbelly of what being a juror means to you financially and professionally.
Before moving forward, it is important to clarify the significance, value and necessity of the role that the jury system plays in the courts of the United States. The Constitutional right to a jury of one’s peers plays a vital role in the American justice system. On one level it functions as a separation of power within the courtroom. The judge and the jury work as a team, with a common goal of seeking adequate justice. The judge determines the law to be applied. The jury decides the facts. The jury system allows a relatively (and arguably) random selection of American citizens to be a part of this country’s judicial system – democratic righteousness.
The right to a jury of one’s peers is a system that our founding fathers determined to be so important to a functioning democratic republic that some refused to sign the Constitution without the inclusion of a guarantee to the right to a jury trial.
How much does being a member of a jury cost the juror?
Do you have a job? Family and friends? Daily obligations? do you go to school? If you answered yes to any of these, then you are sacrificing something by being a juror. Yes, as Americans, being on a jury is our civic duty. Like voting and paying taxes, acting as a juror is just something that Americans need, and should be willing, to do to promote not only democracy but the judicial system that America was founded on. But how much personal sacrifice should be required beyond your duties as a juror?
Can I be terminated for missing work due to jury duty?
Pursuant to Title 28, U.S.C. Section 1875 “No employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any permanent employee by reason of such employee’s jury service, or the attendance or scheduled attendance in connection with such service, in any court of the United States.”
According to Legal Match, “If you are summoned to serve on a jury, your employer must allow you to serve (cannot terminate you) as long as you give them notice that you will be serving.” Although, if you do not give notice to your employer, you could be terminated for skipping work to act as a juror – no call, no show. On the flip side, skipping jury duty after being summoned could get you charged with contempt of court.
Will I be compensated for lost wages by my employer or the court?
Your employer is not required by law to pay you your normal salary. However, you will usually be paid a small amount from the court for serving on a jury. This amount is usually somewhere around $40.00 per day, and in some cases, mileage for transportation. The United States District Court in the Northern District of Georgia will reimburse jurors 56 cents per round trip mile (the same rates are applicable in the Middle District of Florida).
Gerry Del Valle, a Jacksonville, Florida resident, served three days of jury duty. “I received about $45 total.” Del Valle said, who was in law school at the time. The student was also offered a letter to be excused from class if he so desired. Compensation paid by the court for jury duty varies state-by-state and in some cases, county-by-county. Some states pay as low as $15.00 per day to jurors. If the trial for which you are sitting as a juror does happen to go on for several days, in many scenarios, you will be given a stipend for food and sometimes (if overnight stay is required for trial purposes – or there are transportation issues) you will be given a stipend for hotel accommodations.
Now here is the kicker. Attendance Fees.
Attendance fees. Yes, attendance fees. In some cases, employers are permitted to require their civically dutiful employees to (reverse) compensate the employer for attendance fees to “even out the books.” On many occasions, employers will ask (or demand) that you pay them your attendance fee in order to maintain your monthly salary. What?!? You are not only losing out on money you could be making at work, but on top of that you have to pay back your employer for your time off? In many states, that is proper action in accordance with the law.
- Some employers will continue to pay you (per usual) while you are acting as a juror. Most salaried employees have this experience.
- Some employers will not pay you anything for time spent as a juror.
- Some employers will make you pay them an attendance fee for your missed time at work.
But there is more to it. Apply the following hypotheticals to a situation where someone sits as a juror for five business days: What if your job is highly competitive and quota driven. Missing out on work can cost you a lot more than $40.00 or getting a “little behind.” Your competing co-workers may surpass your numbers or quotas leading to several negative long term consequences. What if you are a single parent and have to find childcare and make sure your children are properly taken care of? Most courts specifically ask that jurors leave your children at home as there is no childcare provided for at the courthouse. This can cause a terrible interruption in a persons life both fincancially and professionally. An interruption that can not be compensated by $40.00 per day.
“For someone who doesnt have a strong financial support system would face a terrible hardship if they had to serve on a jury.” Del Valle said. “Because its all day everyday and can be extremely mind numbing and exhaustion for people not ready for it.”
However, it must be kept in mind that If your occupation or compensation make it financially difficult for you to serve on a jury, the court may let you go on the basis of hardship. If you request a dismissal or postponement from jury duty, that does not guarantee you will be granted one.
The The Jury Selection and Service Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 186, by law, allows courts to excuse a juror from service at the time he or she is summoned on the grounds of “undue hardship or extreme inconvenience.” The juror should write a letter to the clerk of court requesting an excuse with an explanation of hardship. Excuses for jurors are granted at the discretion of the court and cannot be reviewed or appealed to Congress or any other entity. However, failure to give notice (and receive approval for postponement or , followed by a person selected for jury duty failing to appear to act as a juror, could be charged with contempt of court.
According to USCourts.gov, “each of the 94 federal district courts maintains its own jury procedures and policies regarding excuses from jury service. Many courts offer excuses from service, on individual request, to designated groups of persons or occupational classes.”
While extreme hardship, employment risks, school and other personal reasons may get you removed from reporting for jury duty, the groups that are often given the most lenience are:
- persons over age 70
- persons who have, within the past two years, served on a federal jury
- persons who serve as volunteer fire fighters or members of a rescue squad or ambulance crew.
In the end, I cannot stress enough how important it is for Americans to participate in the jury process. When possible, I suggest that you sit as a juror. It can be a very exciting and educational experience. Additionally, you are fulfilling a very important civic duty.
For more questions about jury duty you can contact us on twitter @JohnPhillips or @SamInJax. Or check out the team at the Law Offices of John M. Phillips.
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