In 1995, fresh off his success in the hit movies Encino Man and Son in Law (where he played the delightful character named ‘Crawl’ who said things like ‘buuudddyyyy’ a lot), Mr Pauly Shore, comedian / actor / legend, starred in the movie Jury Duty. It was about an unemployed, lazy stripper (!!) who finds out that if he is selected for jury duty on a murder trial, he can earn $50 a day and get to stay in a free room at a local hotel. All he has to do is get selected as a juror and watch a trial. Easy money, right? What could possibly go wrong?
Needless to say, hilarity ensues, and a brisk ninety minutes later, the film ends with our hero walking off into the sunset with the girl of his dreams and an innocent man being released from the clutches of the U.S. criminal justice system.
I have watched this movie way too many times.
While a good entry point to what it is like to be on a jury, this movie does have some very minor flaws. It does not show the stress involved in getting a summons letter that tells you to attend a jury selection process with the threat of receiving a very large fine if you fail to show up to court for the jury selection process without a valid excuse. Nor did it have any scenes portraying the sense of dread that comes with having to tell your boss and co-workers that you have to take some unexpected time off work to perform your civic duty on a jury panel.
The movie also places way too much emphasis on how supposedly awesome it is to be part of a jury. It doesn’t show the disruption to normal routines, the mad shuffling and juggling of family responsibilities, or the incredible boredom that comes if you are ultimately selected to be on a jury.
Like I said, minor flaws in an otherwise flawless movie.
In this section I want to help you know what you can do, legally, to avoid jury duty should you receive a summons in the post. I understand how horrible it can be and want to make sure you know what to do if and when your time comes.
Regardless of what state or territory you live in, it is getting harder and harder to find a way out of jury duty, if you are summonsed. The only way to do it is to prove that you have a ‘good cause’ for being excused from serving on a jury. Not too long ago, saying that your work commitments would prevent you to from participating without adversely affecting your career was enough to get you out of jury duty. These days, work commitments alone are not enough of a ‘good cause’ to allow you to be excused from a jury trial, other than in a few exceptional circumstances that I mention below.
What amounts to a ‘good cause’ depends on what state or territory you live in, but in general you will need to be able to show the court that you meet one or, ideally, a couple of the following exceptions to jury service:
⁃ Jury service would cause undue hardship or serious inconvenience to you, your family, or the public. Missing a few days of work is not usually enough to qualify you for this exception.
⁃ You have a disability that makes you unsuitable or incapable of effectively serving as a juror, without reasonable accommodation.
⁃ You have a conflict of interest or some other knowledge of or friendship with the person on trial that means you cannot be impartial.
⁃ You have a permanent mental or physical impairment that makes you incapable of doing jury service or that would injure your health if you do jury service.
All states and territories also give you the chance, either before the day you are called to attend jury duty, or on the day you arrive, to request a deferral of, or exemption from, jury duty due to your personal circumstances. Simply saying that the particular day or week is not convenient for you is not enough. Instead, you need to be able to tell the court why attending jury duty on a particular day would have a significant negative impact on your life, both personally and financially. The sheriff at the court will then decide whether to give you a deferral of your jury service, or a complete exception from serving.
Each state and territory will give different weighting to your personal circumstances and hey, everyone is unique and different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to trying to argue for your jury duty to be deferred. Having said that, some things you might want to use as grounds for deferring or avoiding jury duty are:
⁃ That you are a sole trader or contractor, and have jobs lined up on the day you are meant to show up for jury duty.
⁃ You have to care for school-aged children and are unable to make alternate care arrangements. Kids are useful for something, after all.
⁃ You are in an advanced stage of pregnancy or are having medical difficulties during your pregnancy. A medical certificate is required, as a bulging belly is not sufficient evidence, sadly. Especially for blokes.
⁃ You have a medical condition which would make jury service onerous. I can’t even think of what medical condition would cover this, other than death or near death. Maybe try something contagious like meningococcal or the black plague.
⁃ You are an emergency service operational employee. These women and men are heroes, and they should not need to do anything they do not want to do.
⁃ You are enrolled in education and need to attend lectures or exams or are living outside your jury district to undertake studies. This would be the one-time students might actually choose to go to lectures.
⁃ You have a mental or physical impairment. Note: being too lazy to participate does not qualify you for this exemption.
⁃ You will be absent from your state or territory at the time you are required to attend for jury duty.
⁃ You have transport difficulties, such as unsuitable or unavailable public transport. This should apply to everyone in Sydney.
⁃ You are a dirty, dirty lawyer, like me, or a judge or other officer of the court.
⁃ You are unable to read and understand English, which would make it difficult for you to read this section of this book as well, so I am not sure why I am even including this one.
You’ll need evidence to support your request for a deferral or exemption from jury duty. That means you will need to prepare or collect supporting materials like medical certificates showing that you cannot serve on a jury for medical reasons, statutory declarations from people certifying that you are an emergency worker or a school or university student, airline tickets and hotel reservations showing you will be out of the country when you are meant to show up to court for the jury selection process, and so on. You need to be prepared to present your argument for a deferral or exemption from jury service to the courthouse sheriff and be ready to back your argument up with good, hard evidence.
Finally, much like breaking wind in a crowded lift, please don’t assume you’re excused just because no one says anything about it. There are serious fines for failing to attend jury duty without being formally excused, and the only way you will know for certain if you are formally excused is if you get a letter stating this or if the courthouse sheriff tells you to your face that your jury service is deferred or that you are exempt from serving.
While we are on the subject, I feel there should also be serious fines for lift-farts, but that is a topic for another day.
Now, go and watch Jury Duty. It’s awesome, buuudddy.