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Being called for jury duty can feel like a major inconvenience. However, juries serve a major role in our country’s justice system and help preserve our constitutional rights. Criminal defendants and parties involved in personal injury lawsuits often rely on juries.  Jury service is also an opportunity for you to participate in government and support your community. 

In California, you can only be summoned for jury service once in any given 12-month period. Once summoned, the state follows what is known as the “one-day or one-trial” rule. This means that if you are not chosen to serve on a jury, you will be excused from your duty for at least another year. By contrast, if you are chosen for a jury, you must serve until the end of the trial. 

Note that there are penalties if you fail to show up for jury duty. However, under certain circumstances, you can either be excused from service or postpone the service date. 

The Jury Summons

Now, you’ll know that you’ve been selected for jury duty if you receive what is called a “summons” in the mail. The summons comes from the court in the county where you live and contains important information, including:

  • The date and time you must arrive,
  • The location of the court,
  • Driving directions, and
  • Parking information.

This information should be reviewed carefully.

If you would like to be excused for service or want to postpone the date, you will fill out the enclosed form and mail it back to the court. If you are able to serve on the date requested, simple bring the form with you on your day of service. 

Penalties for Skipping Jury Duty

It is important to note that not showing up for jury duty has consequences. If you do not have a legal excuse, you will be found in contempt of court. This could result in you being fined $250 for the first violation, $750 for the second violation, and $1,500 for the third violation. The court also has the authority to order jail time for noncompliance.

Keep in mind that if you continue to ignore all notices from the court, the court will set an Order to Show Cause (OSC) hearing. At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to explain any reasons you have for not complying with the summons.

The court may then order a new time for jury duty and determine the appropriate penalties. Note that if you fail to pay a fine, it will be forwarded to a collection agency. This could lead to actions such as property liens and wage garnishment. 

Excuse from Jury Service

Not everyone that is summoned for jury duty in California is required to serve.

Reasons that you may be excused include: 

  • You have no means of transportation
  • Travel to the courthouse would be an excessive distance
  • You have a physical or mental impairment
  • You care for a dependent and cannot afford to have someone else cover 
  • It would cause an extreme financial burden 

Now, it’s important that you fill out the summons response and return it to the court as soon as possible. Failing to show up – even with a valid excuse – can lead to you receiving a penalty from the court.

Note that it is illegal in California for an employer to penalize you for serving on a jury. This means that concern over losing your job is not considered a valid reason to be excused from jury duty. 

Qualifying for Jury Service

Certain individuals in California are not allowed to serve on juries. If you are asked to serve on a jury and you do not qualify, you simply check the appropriate box on the summons and send it back to the court. Reasons that would disqualify you from jury duty include:

  • You don’t have sufficient knowledge of the English language
  • You are not a US citizen
  • You are under 18
  • You don’t currently live in California or the county where the court is located
  • You already served on a trial in the last 12 months
  • You’ve been convicted of a felony or malfeasance in office
  • You are under conservatorship, or
  • You are a peace officer as defined by California law.

You’ll still have to tell the court that you want to be excused. It won’t happen automatically.

Postponing Jury Service

Now, if you qualify for jury duty and do not have a legal excuse to skip service, you may be able to receive a postponement instead. You are allowed one postponement, so long as your service occurs within 6 months of the date of the summons. 

Remember, be sure to fill out the summons response form and return it to the court as soon as possible. It’s not necessary to provide a reason for postponement, but you must provide the earliest date in which you can serve. If you are a nursing mother who is breastfeeding, you may request a postponement of up to 1 year from the date of the summons.

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