Juries are an essential part of the American justice system. It is the constitutional right of all American citizens, under the Sixth Amendment, to have a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury of their peers.
But despite the importance of juries, few people want to serve on them. A recent article on AL.com reported that a troublingly high number of residents of Huntsville and Madison County completely ignore a jury summons. According to the article, each of the 24 jury weeks on the court calendar, 450 jury summons are sent to residents by the AOC. Of those 450 summons, a paltry 150 (33%) show up—and that if the court is “lucky.”
Alabama law requires a minimum number of possible jurors to be present in a jury pool: 36 for capital cases where the death penalty is possible, 24 for a felony case without the possibility of the death penalty, and 18 for a misdemeanor.
Many people have a legitimate excuse for not reporting for jury duty: they’re elderly, have a medical condition, have a conflict with work, changed addresses and did not receive the summons, etc. The Administrative Office will work with the people who call in to report conflicts, often postponing their jury service.
However, many others will simply never call and disregard the summons entirely. This is a problem for both the courts and the people going through the justice system. A lack of jurors could cause delays in a trial, for example, which neither the courts nor the attorneys and their clients want.
It’s important that, if you receive a jury summons, you report for jury duty or work with the Administrative Office of Courts if you have a good reason for skipping. You may not know that those who just skip jury duty face penalties: the first time, the person can be charged in contempt of court. The second time, they face fines of $300 and jail time up to 10 days in length. These consequences can be avoided entirely by just showing up. Though not extremely well-paying, jury services do give $10 per day and $0.05 per mile, and trials rarely last longer than one week.