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How to Actually Be Chosen for Jury Duty

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Photo: Everett Collection (Shutterstock)

If you’re trying to get out of jury duty, the world (and Lifehacker) are full of tips and tricks to dissuade both claimants and defendants from choosing you to serve. But what if you’re an upstanding citizen who wants to serve on a jury? Maybe you’re craving a scene out of 12 Angry Men, or you want to put some dirtbag behind bars? Maybe you’re a bored retiree or you just want a couple days off from your job at the batting cage? Either way, here are some tips that could help you get chosen to do your civic duty.

Make sure you’re eligible to serve

Juries don’t take everyone; they only take nearly everyone. You are generally exempt from jury duty if you are a full-time public official on the local, state, or federal level, or if you are a police officer, firefighter, or active member of the military.

You must also be:

  • An adult
  • A U.S. citizen
  • A resident of the jurisdiction where you are going to serve
  • Mentally competent

In most courts in the United States, you must speak English to serve on a jury, but in some places, interpreters are provided, or the standard isn’t “fluency,” but the ability to understand basic English. Some places give tests. Some don’t.

If you are a felon, you cannot serve on a jury unless your rights have been restored.

Make sure The Man knows you exist

Like everything in life, being chosen for jury duty starts with getting your name on the right list. Prospective jurors are generally chosen randomly from people who have registered to vote, or they’re taken from the DMV’s list of driver licenses or holders of state IDs. So make sure you’re signed up for both.

Once you’re signed up, it’s time to play the waiting game and check the mail every day for a jury summons. But don’t hold your breath—it’s a long process, and there’s no way to speed it up.

So you’ve received a jury summons…

Once your jury summons has arrived in the mail, follow the instructions. In some places, there is a call-in number to confirm you’ll be appearing. You might have to fill out a short questionnaire online. Or you might just be told the date and location where you’re supposed to show up.

You are required to respond to this summons. You could be fined or even jailed if you ignore it.

Can you fit jury duty into your busy schedule?

As a prospective juror, you can’t know for sure how long you’ll be asked to serve ahead of time, although the courts will often estimate how long you might serve. Obviously, you need to be free of any hardships that would prevent you from serving, like “having to take care of a child” or “you’d go broke if you miss work.” Your employer is required to allow you to serve on a jury, but they’re not necessarily required to pay you for your time.

Most jury trials don’t last longer than a week, but if you’re chosen to serve on a grand jury, it could be much longer. How long depends on the case, the jurisdiction, and the kind of grand jury. In California, for instance, “investigatory” grand juries can meet for a year and “accusatory” grand juries can meet for around six months. A federal grand jury can sit for anywhere from 18-36 months. Grand juries typically don’t meet every day, though. Instead, you might be on the hook for only a few days a month.

What to do on The Big Day

On your day of appointed jury duty, arrive on time, dressed in respectful, “business casual” attire—many courts have basic “don’t wear pajamas and flip-flops” dress codes, but you generally aren’t required to wear a tie and jacket either—and be ready to meet your fellow citizens. Bring a snack, a book, and your phone; you’ll probably be waiting around for most of the day.

Being placed in the jury pool is essentially random chance among eligible citizens (although courts are generally going for a diverse, representative sample of the community), but whether you’re actually chosen for the jury is generally decided through voir dire, the non-random process by which attorneys choose jurors.

Generally, the judge will give prospective jurors a brief overview of the case, and the lawyers from both sides will ask jurors questions designed to tease out how they might ultimately decide a case or whether you’ll be a fair juror. There’s no way of knowing what either attorney is “looking for” in jurors beyond impartiality, so answer the questions honestly while presenting yourself as an open-minded person. Think “average person with middle-of-the-road views” for your best chance at being chosen.

Attorney’s are likely to ask open-ended, attitudinal questions instead of asking, “Are you impartial?” They will likely pay close attention to your body language, and may look for signs that you’re the kind of independent thinker who might hang a jury. They may consider your publicly viewable social media feeds to get a handle on whether you’d make a good juror. So if you’re really serious about being chosen, scrub your feeds of political and religious opinions. You want to seem neutral and persuadable for either side. If you show up to a criminal trial in a “F*ck the Police” or a “Thin Blue Line” t-shirt, you’re likely not going to be chosen. If members of your close family are in law enforcement, you might have a problem, too. If you know anyone involved in the case, you’re probably going to be sent home. There might be some other aspect of your background, lifestyle, or profession that makes you a bad choice for a juror, too.

Don’t feel bad if you are not chosen

There are many factors that determine who is chosen for a jury, and almost all of them are outside of your control, so if you’re rejected, don’t feel bad. It’s not because you’re a bad person and no one likes you (Or is it??)

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