It happens to everyone: you walk to the mailbox hoping for a package or a magazine only to find a stack of lame coupons and an envelope from the county clerk’s office. Unless you’re expecting some records from the county, odds are you’ve just been summoned for jury duty. Before panicking or planning your escape, check out our rundown of what to expect when you’re called for serving jury duty in Texas and why you should serve if you haven’t before.
When Duty Calls
Before we move any further, let’s get one thing straight — everyone gets summoned for jury duty eventually, and when it’s your turn, you are required to show up or submit your reason for exemption at least two weeks before the date listed on your summons. If you don’t show up, you could get hit with fines of up to $1,000 fine, a warrant for your arrest or, worst, up to a year in jail.
Are there exemptions?
If you fit one of the following scenarios, then you are allowed to excuse yourself with advance notice to the court (instructions are on the jury summons letter).
- Over the age of 70
- Have a child under the age of 12 and would not have a good way to take care of them
- Currently enrolled in a public or private college
- Are either an officer or an employee of any government department, commission, board, office, etc.
- Have been summoned for service in a county with a population of at least 250,000 and you have served as a petit juror in the county during the three year period preceding the date you are to appear for jury service (does not apply if the jury wheel has been reconstituted since your service as a petit juror)
- Are a member of the U.S. Military Forces serving on active duty and deployed to a location away from your home station and out of your county of residence
- Have any sort of mental impairment
- Unable to speak fluent English
By the way, missing work is not a valid reason for missing jury duty. So unless you meet one of the reasons listed above or can demonstrate a valid hardship, you better be at the courthouse on the requested date.
What to Wear and What to Bring to Jury Duty
OK- if you’re still reading, you’re probably not exempt. If you’re serving, this is the first part of what to expect for jury duty: what to wear. As a general rule of thumb, you want to dress respectably and professionally when entering a court of law. If in doubt, ask yourself: does this outfit work for a job interview? If the answer is no, you should probably reconsider your choice. This might be a no-brainer, but — no need to look trendy either; focus on looking presentable and business casual.
For guys, a safe option is a collared shirt, slacks/khakis and dress shoes. No shorts, no flip flops, no ball caps. For women, consider the same type of apparel, blouse or a conservative dress should cut it. Above all, shoot for comfortable clothing. You might have to be in court for a while with varying courthouse seating accommodations. Tight clothing is the last thing you want to deal with if you’re having to sit all day.
Bring your jury summons with you completed so that it’s ready to be submitted. We also highly recommend bringing a good read or possibly some work to keep busy. There is free wireless Internet in the assembly room, so you could bring your laptop while waiting for the selection process as well.
What to Expect at the Courthouse
We’re not gonna beat around the bush about this one: get ready to be bored. Don’t expect to just show up, be given a number and then ushered into a courtroom. Instead, you’ll arrive at a jury assembly area and fill out some basic paperwork. Depending on the nature of the case being tried, the opposing counsels might be very picky about who they want on the jury. This means a lot of back and forth that you will never see, which could mean getting dismissed before anyone even speaks to you. But in any case, there will probably be some waiting before you find out next steps.
Assuming your jury assembly goes forward, an officer of the court (usually a bailiff) will divide selected persons into groups, assign numbers and send everyone off for further selection. During this process, you’ll meet a judge and members of both the prosecution and the defense counsel. The judge will give you a brief overview of the case, and then you’ll receive some questions from the attorneys.
These questions are meant to assess how fit you are to be a juror for the case. Due to factors such as bias, prejudices or perhaps even familiarity with either the victim or the defendant, you may not the best person to be involved in the case. This interviewing process of all the jury candidates can take up to two hours depending how many questions each of the attorneys prepared, how jury candidates chooses to answer the questions and, course, if the judge feels the need to intervene with the interviewing.
Say for instance, if you were summoned to serve on a DWI trial, and come to find out the case being tried is your sister’s case. She had been killed by the defendant, a drunk driver. The defense attorney would most likely ask that you be dismissed, and the judge would agree. Your intimate relationship is obviously going to render your perspective extremely biased.
It is your duty to speak up if you know that you might be unable to give fair, unbiased judgement in the particular case being presented to you due to whatever circumstances — it would not be held against you during jury selection. That said, don’t lie just to get dismissed. It’s unfair to the defendant and can potentially leave the person with a jury that is further unfit.
Moving Beyond Selection
If you make it through that process and the case goes to trial as planned, you will then serve on a jury with anywhere from five to eleven of your peers and weigh in on your assigned court case.
Why You Should Serve Jury Duty
You know now what to expect when you’re called for jury duty. But here’s something even more important: why you should serve jury duty. As American citizens, one of our core civic duties is to serve on a jury when called to do so. It may not be all that fun, but it is important. In order for our system to work properly, people from all walks of life need to actively participate in our legal system. When you try to skip out on jury duty, you could be skipping out on your chance to make an important difference in several lives. After all, it could be your unique point of view that determines whether or not justice is served or neglected. Wouldn’t you want the same chance for yourself if ever (hopefully not!) in the same situation?
So the next time you get that jury duty summon, don’t try to come up with a scheme to get out of it. Go to the courthouse, hear the facts and make the right call. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some incredibly sharp juries made up of people who put the law before their personal reservations and made the right legal decisions to give deserving people their freedom back. Whether it’s a manslaughter charge or a simple DWI, a smart jury is always the difference between justice and injustice in our court system.
If you ever find yourself facing a jury instead of serving on one, our team at Thiessen Law Firm (and, of course, myself) is more than equipped to serve you. To get the right start on your case, contact us for a free consultation today.