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Jury duty is an important civic responsibility that all citizens should take seriously. However, many people try to get out of serving on a jury for various reasons. Some may have busy work schedules or family obligations that make it difficult to serve. Others may just not want to take the time out of their daily lives. But is skipping jury duty actually a crime that could get you in legal trouble?
The short answer is yes, skipping jury duty can be a criminal offense in most states, including California. There are legal consequences for ignoring a jury summons, ranging from fines to jail time in extreme cases. While a first offense will usually just lead to a second summons, repeatedly skipping jury duty is not taken lightly by the courts.
Let’s take a closer look at what California law actually says about missing jury duty. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 209, any prospective juror who fails to appear for jury service when summoned or fails to respond to the court can be compelled to attend. This means the court can issue a warrant for your arrest if you do not show up or provide a valid legal excuse.
Ignoring a jury summons is essentially considered contempt of court. The court views it as you deliberately defying a court order to fulfill your civic duty. As a result, judges have wide discretion to punish failure to appear for jury duty with fines or jail time.
In California, the maximum fine for skipping jury duty is $1,500. Courts can also sentence you to jail for up to 5 days for a first offense. While rare, repeat offenders could potentially face up to 6 months in jail if found in contempt multiple times.
What typically happens if you skip jury duty in California? Here are some common consequences:
As you can see, the penalties can quickly escalate from fines to jail time if you continue to thumb your nose at the court’s orders. Judges do not appreciate when people think jury duty doesn’t apply to them.
Now that you know the consequences, what should you do if you’ve already missed jury duty? Here are some tips:
Being proactive and honest with the court is your best chance to reduce any fines and avoid jail time. Valid excuses like medical emergencies or military service may also get you excused without penalties.
The easiest way to avoid fines and jail time for missing jury duty is simple – show up for jury duty when summoned. Since it’s the law, you are obligated to appear. However, if you truly cannot serve, here are some other tips:
As long as you are proactive and communicate with the court, you should be able to avoid any penalties for missing jury duty. We all have busy lives, but ignoring a jury summons almost always makes the situation worse.
Are there any legally valid excuses for missing jury duty in California? The court understands there are certain circumstances that may prevent you from serving. Here are some approved excuses:
If any of these apply to you, contact the jury commissioner right away to explain your situation and request an excuse. You will need to provide documentation in some cases to support your claim.
If you are arrested on a warrant for failure to appear for jury duty, remain calm. The police are simply doing their job in bringing you before the judge to explain missing your summons. Here are some tips if you find yourself in custody:
With an experienced criminal defense attorney’s help, you may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed, especially if it’s your first offense. Your lawyer can also advocate for reasonable bail so you don’t have to remain jailed until trial.
Let’s take a closer look at the fines imposed for missing jury duty. As we’ve discussed, California state law allows judges to fine citizens up to $1,500 for a first offense. Here are some other key facts about fines for skipping jury duty:
As you can see, a single failure to appear can quickly become a costly mistake. Even if you are fined a lesser amount, unpaid jury duty fines don’t just go away. They can stay on your record and lead to additional legal and financial issues down the road.
What about jail time for skipping jury duty? Yes, judges can technically sentence you to up to 5 days in jail for a first offense under California law. Here are some key facts about serving jail time for missing jury duty:
While unlikely, the possibility of jail time shows why you should never just blow off jury duty. Very few people actually serve jail time for a first offense. But repeatedly ignoring summons could land you in jail for up to 6 months.
Will skipping jury duty go on your permanent record? Unfortunately, yes. Just like any other misdemeanor criminal offense, it becomes part of your criminal record. Here’s what you should know:
Having a misdemeanor conviction for skipping jury duty is not the end of the world. But it’s still something that could impact your future rental, employment, and licensing prospects. This is why hiring an attorney to help mitigate penalties is so important.
Are there any defenses you can raise to fight jury duty violation charges? There may be defenses and mitigating factors your attorney can use to get charges reduced or dismissed. Some potential defenses include:
Before your court date, your lawyer will interview you to identify any possible excuses or defenses for missing jury duty. By gathering evidence and presenting mitigating factors, they can often get charges dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense.
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