Skipping jury duty is so common that it’s even a trope on television and movies. But while it may seem like no big deal, missing jury duty can actually result in your being charged with contempt of court in California. Though it is rare for those who ignore jury summons to face charges, many people are shocked to find out they could potentially be arrested for skipping jury duty. What happens when you miss jury duty in California will depend on how many times you have failed to appear, if you made an attempt to be excused, and more, but most people can avoid charges. However, if you are accused of contempt of court after missing jury duty in California, a lawyer can help you fight the charges.
How Jury Duty Works
In California, you can be called to serve on jury duty once every twelve months, and if you serve on a jury, you cannot be called on again for three years. Fortunately, few people are called that often —although because the system is completely random, some people are sent summons far more often than others.
While jury summons have a date on them, you can show up any day two weeks prior to that date or two weeks after if the date is inconvenient to you. You can also request to postpone service for up to six months. When you show up, you will be asked to spend one day at the court to see if you can be assigned to a jury. If you are not assigned to a case, you will be excused. If you are selected for a jury, you will probably be there for 3-7 days, although some cases take more or less time.
While some employers choose to pay employees for time spent on a jury, the law does not require employers to pay employees for this time. Employers are legally required to give you time off for jury duty though.
Valid Excuses for Getting Out of Jury Duty
First, juries are a vital part of our criminal justice system, and everyone deserves a fair and impartial jury of their peers. If you can’t serve, however, you should fill out the appropriate section of your summons for jury duty and mail it back to the jury commissioner as soon as possible. Valid excuses for missing jury duty include but are not limited to:
- Being on active military duty
- Being a breastfeeding mother
- Being unable to serve as spending time on a jury would present a significant mental or financial hardship
- Having an obligation to care for someone during the day
- Being on a grand jury
- Being a peace officer
- Not having your right rights restored after a felony conviction
- Not meeting the minimum requirements, such as being over 18, speaking English, and being a U.S. citizen
The state will not notify you if your excuse has been accepted, only if it is rejected.
Even after you appear, if you are selected for a lengthy trial, you can still claim financial or other hardship to be excused from jury duty.
What Happens if You Miss Jury Duty in California?
A jury summons is an official court summons; ignoring it can result in contempt of court charges, however, this will not happen immediately. If you fail to show up for jury duty once, the state will usually assume you made a mistake and send you a second notice. If you still ignore the summons, you could be at risk for criminal charges, and what will happen next will largely depend on the specific court you have been summoned to appear in.
Many people question whether you can actually be arrested for skipping jury duty, but the fact is that it does happen, though it is rare. Before you are charged, the court will first send you a failure to appear notice and an order to show cause, meaning you must appear in court to explain why you missed the date. If you fail to respond to this notice, you can be fined —$250 for the first offense, $750 for the second, and $1,500 for the third and subsequent instances. Some courts even issue these notices after a first missed court date, but in San Diego, you will typically be given two opportunities to appear before you can be fined.
You will not face contempt of court criminal charges for missing jury duty unless you neglect to appear at the court hearing for your order to show cause. If you are charged with contempt of court for skipping jury duty, always work with top lawyers who can help you fight the charges. Common defenses include not getting the summons, not getting a notice that your excuse was rejected, sending an excuse but not having it received by the courthouse, or having a temporary or long-term mental or physical condition that prevented you from sending in an excuse.
The Penalty for Contempt of Court
Contempt of court is a misdemeanor crime. Those convicted of contempt of court for failing to report to jury duty can be sentenced to up to 5 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. While a felony conviction may disqualify you from future jury service, being convicted for missing jury duty will not excuse you from having to serve in the future, as having a misdemeanor on your record does not disqualify you from jury duty. In other words, you could be convicted, serve time in jail, and pay your fine only to receive another jury summons in the mail the very next day.