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Jury duty – what happens if I don't go?

By Katherine Howard, December 1, 2006, Columns

What happens if I don't show up for jury duty?

You've been summoned for jury duty. Though it makes you feel momentarily morally reprehensible, the temptation to trash the summons and shirk your civic duties is strong. You ask: What's the worst that could happen?

It depends. Before your summons becomes scrap, consider the following: If you're being summoned to serve for a federal jury and don't show, you're facing the possibility of being seized by a marshal, hauled before the court, and asked to "show cause," that is, provide the court with a good reason, why you couldn't make it to jury duty. In the event the court decides your "cause" wasn't worthy, you're now facing a fine up to $100, three days in jail, or both.

But that's if you were summoned by the feds. They say things are bigger and better in Texas, and when it comes to the range of possible penalties for shirking jury duty, the saying holds true.

If you are summoned to jury duty in a J.P. court (small claims or justice court) or a municipal court in Texas, the penalty for not showing up is exactly the same as under the federal rules: a fine up to $100 and/or a three-night stay in jail. If you blow off a county or district court summons though, state law provides for a potential fine starting at $100 on up to $1,000, and you can be jailed for contempt. Unlike the three-day stay for delinquent citizens under the federal rules, in Texas you can be jailed for contempt up to six months.

In reality, courts don't spend their time and resources fining and jailing folks who don't show up for jury duty. If you pull a no-show, nothing is likely to happen to you. Seriously, though, actually going to jury duty is a lot less painful than people think and sometimes even enjoyable. The real consequence is that jury trials can't happen without juries. In the event you ever need a jury, it's only fair to ask others what you've done yourself.

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