Recently my son received a summons to serve as a juror in Chesterfield County. “I’m exempt, of course,” he said to me. “Why?” “Because my mother’s a lawyer,” he responded. Sorry, son, it’s not quite that easy.
I’ve always wanted to serve as a juror, but others dread the thought and would sooner walk across a bed of hot coals than get that letter. So how did that juror summons end up in your mailbox, anyway? A popular belief is that the juror pool is drawn from the voter registration rolls, but that is just one source. Virginia Code §8.01-345 permits jurors to be chosen from the voter registration rolls, the Department of Motor Vehicle’s list of persons with motor vehicle licenses, the personal property tax rolls, and any other lists as may be designated by the chief judge of the circuit. Selection may be made by manual, mechanical or electronic means, as long the selection is random.
The requirements to be a “qualified” juror in Virginia are as follows: you must be
- are over the age of eighteen years,
- a resident of Virginia for at least one year, and
- a resident of the city or county in which you are called for duty for at least six months.
By law in Virginia, some persons are automatically disqualified from serving as jurors, including those who have been declared by a court to be incapacitated, persons convicted of treason or a felony, and persons otherwise under a disability as defined by Virginia Code §8.01-2. Some, though qualified to serve as jurors, are exempt, including the President and Vice President of the United States, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General of Virginia, members of Congress, members of the General Assembly while in session, licensed practicing attorneys, judges, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, and police. The exemption for police and sheriffs generally rests on the notion that it would be a hazard to the community to take these people away from their jobs. A similar exemption exists for firefighters under certain special circumstances in Virginia Code §8.01-341. That statute also allows certain other people to claim an exemption if they choose to do so. Some interesting exemptions in that category are for any person having legal custody of and responsibility for a child under 16 who requires continuous care during normal hours, any nursing mother of an infant, and any person over the age of 70. Another important exemption in that statute is the one available for anyone “who is the only person performing services for a business, commercial or agricultural enterprise and whose services are so essential to the operations of the business, commercial or agricultural enterprise that such enterprise must close or cease to function if such person is required to perform jury duty.” In a similar vein, another code section allows a person to defer jury service if service at a particular time would cause “particular occupational inconvenience.” In that instance, the person is not exempted from duty, but can delay the duty until a later term.
What if you don’t qualify for one of these exemptions, but your boss is just none too pleased that you’ll be absent from your job? Another law prohibits your employer from penalizing you or requiring you to use vacation or sick leave for jury duty. Happy to do your duty, but it seems like you were just called a few months ago? Another statute says that no person shall “report to any state court for jury duty” more than once every three years. Be careful: although the code section says you don’t have to serve if you’ve “report[ed]” for duty within the preceding three years, if you received the summons but never actually had to show up at the courthouse during that time, you’re still on the hook. Please also note that this only applies to jury duty in state court. Serving on a jury in federal court doesn’t get you a pass in state court.
No exemptions, no prior service, no disqualification on your part? What happens if you just don’t show up for jury duty? You’ll likely be summoned to court to explain yourself. If the judge doesn’t accept your excuses, you could be fined anywhere between $50.00 and $200.00. In some courts, failure to show up for jury duty will result in the judge ordering a capias (court order) for your arrest. Other courts issue a “show cause” order requiring you to appear and explain why you did not show up for jury duty. If you don’t have a valid reason, you may be fined or even incarcerated. So it’s not a smart idea to just fail to show up.
Trial by jury was considered such an important civil right by the Founding Fathers that it’s found in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the Constitution. Exercise of that right is dependent on others being willing to serve. It may be inconvenient, but serving on a jury is one of our most important rights and obligations as citizens. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to serve if it arises.
 See Va. Code §8.01-345, at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title8.01/chapter11/section8.01-345/.
 See Va. Code §8.01-338, at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title8.01/chapter11/section8.01-338/.
 See Va. Code §8.01-2, at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title8.01/chapter1/section8.01-2/
 See Va. Code §8.01-341.1, at https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title8.01/chapter11/section8.01-341/
 See Va. Code §8.01-341.2 at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title8.01/chapter11/section8.01-341.2/.
 See Va. Code §18.2-465.1 at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title18.2/chapter10/section18.2-465.1/.
 See Va. Code §8.01-356 at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title8.01/chapter11/section8.01-356/.
 See the full text of these Amendments at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html.