The Austin Chronicle

The Common Law

By Luke Ellis and Katherine Howard, October 17, 2008, Columns

Jury Duty – What If I Don't Show Up?

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

It depends. 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 of up to $100, three days in jail, or both.

If you are summoned to jury duty in a justice of the peace 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 of 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 up to six months for contempt.

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 often less painful than people think. 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 of others what you've done yourself.

I'm self-employed, and if I don't go to work, I don't get paid, and my business suffers. Can this get me out of jury duty?

Probably not. Under Texas law, judges have the discretion to hear any reasonable sworn excuse of a prospective juror and to release that person from jury service. But as a general rule, judges release qualified potential jurors very sparingly. If you want out of jury service because you are busy or may lose income, it's unlikely that a judge will release you.

How long before I have to serve on a jury again?

If you served on a jury, meaning you were one of the six or 12 jurors chosen for a trial and were sworn in by the judge, you may be exempted from jury service for a minimum period of 24 months before serving again

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