August 24, 2003
Jury duty

Last year I criticized another blogger for publicly asking how he could get out of jury duty. According to today's paper, all he really had to do was not show up.

Many of the empty chairs can be attributed to old addresses in the database -- 13.7 percent of the mailed summonses are returned to sender -- and about half of those who do respond get exemptions or are disqualified. Regardless, the low response rates are forcing the courts to send out five times as many summonses as needed. At a cost of about 30 cents to prepare and mail each summons, Harris County spent more than $120,000 to get people into the jury boxes during the first six months of this year.

A common explanation from those who fail to show is that they never saw the summons. The only way to confirm whether an individual actually received his or her order would be to send it through certified mail with a return receipt requested, officials say. But that would boost the cost to more than $4 per mailing, meaning it is not cost-effective to investigate those who fail to appear.

In other words, the only real consequence for not showing up is the nagging feeling that a civic obligation has been shirked.

Technically, residents who miss jury duty without a valid exemption or disqualification are subject to arrest for contempt of court, a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $500 fine. Eight years ago, amid concerns over lagging response rates, Harris County began cracking down. Some people were fined.

But no one has been prosecuted in at least eight years, said state District Judge Mark Davidson, administrative judge of the district courts here, because it would divert police from other crime-fighting efforts. Besides, court officials report no problems securing jurors for the county's 82 civil and criminal courts.

Through June of this year, Harris County put 401,090 summonses in the mail, said Fred King, spokesman for the district clerk's office. About 21 percent of those summoned either received an exemption or were disqualified. Twenty percent showed up and were found eligible to be considered for jury duty. No one responded to 45 percent of the summonses.

In Dallas County, the state's second most populous county after Harris, a near-identical 21 percent show up and are eligible for service.

"For urban areas that's not out of line," acknowledged Tom Munsterman, director of the Center for Jury Studies of the Virginia-based National Center for State Courts.

That's really annoying. I'd never consider not replying to a jury summons, and the thought that those who don't have nothing to fear bothers me. At least this hasn't caused a real problem, in that trials are seldom delayed due to a lack of potential jurors. But it still chaps me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 24, 2003 to Legal matters | TrackBack

That's just disgusting, especially in a one-trial term region, as you pointed out in the earlier post. As frustrated as I get with my acquaintances who try to get out of jury duty, I can't think of anyone I know who's tried that, or even thought they could get away with it.

I've never been impaneled here in Dallas, but I know from experience that they do everything they can to make the process up to that point as painless as possible for those summoned.

I do wonder if that article won't exacerbate the problem, though.

Posted by: kodi on August 24, 2003 2:52 PM

The old address issue is not limited to Texas. I was served with a jury duty summons in the Bronx in March even though I moved to Staten Island more than a year earlier. I proved my change of address, and I should be all right for the time being.

I have no problem with performing jury duty, it's just that they need to get the process of selection right. On the other hand, since New York City has five seperate counties (each borough is a seperate county, with Staten Island legally called Richmond County for those of you from outside the area), I can see how chaotic it can get at times.

Posted by: William Hughes on August 24, 2003 7:56 PM

As the entitlement state grows, one should not necessarily be surprised to see notions of civic obligation/duty weaken.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on August 24, 2003 8:45 PM

This issue burns me as well. While I happily (yeah, right) dutifully show up w/book, I'm not really amused at how often I get called.

The Comical article you quote is the typical bureaucratic BS which shows they (a) haven't thought about the problem and (b) don't really consider it a problem.

The are solutions, if they cared. First, the Post Office has this wonderful return service. First class mail which is undeliverable as addressed will be returned, along with the new address if it is known to the PO. The cost of this amazing feature, zero-zilch-none-no dollars and no cents.

While this doesn't constitute proof of delivery, it does get you a correct, or at least, more recent address.

Check the address against the DL address. If different, you've probably committed a misdemeanor by failing to notify the DPS. If different, your voter registration may be invalid.

If it doesn't come back and you don't show, send some fraction via certified mail the next time those people are selected and prosecute them. Five hundred dollars is a lot more than four dollars.

Posted by: Charles M on August 24, 2003 10:26 PM

JURY duty SMURRY duty, it is all bs like the politicians, and the police, and the judges, ALL BS! Think that'll get me off? :)~

Posted by: Pablo Rosa on September 11, 2003 1:11 AM

I was willing to serve the first time I was summoned, 2 years ago. I've been summoned -twice- since. I seem to be the first person in the database, and it's getting old fast to explain to my boss that I've been summoned and have to use all my vacation time sitting in the selection room. They mandate 2 weeks of vacation per year, and then they mandate that one week of that is spent in their service. I'm thinking I might just skip this one.

Posted by: Anonymous on September 29, 2003 12:09 PM

I lived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for 35 years and never got called for jury duty, now I live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area and I'm getting really tired of how often I get called for jury duty.

It just chaps me off. I don't want to drive 50 miles a day up to freaking Denton, TX and sit around in a courtroom for a week !

Posted by: Lindsay Davis on October 31, 2003 1:38 PM

I have to say that of the two times I've been summoned, I haven't attended either--the first was exempted. I had just turned 18, in school full time etc, etc. The last time was just a week ago. I'll be damned if I am going to go driving 45 minutes into downtown Houston, deal with parking, and then run the risk of having to do it again for a week or longer if I am selected. Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem if it is the municipal court in the city where I reside, but I live and work outside the 610 loop for a reason.

Now, if they would move the the courthouse out of houston, that would be a whole 'nother story. How about Anahuac, Channelview, or even Highlands?

Posted by: Levi M on January 27, 2004 1:12 PM

After dutifully responding half a dozen times and watching the circus that goes on in virtually every case, I have chosen to ignore the last 4-5 summons I have received. I know there is no real excuse, but the first jury I served on required me to sit around the courthouse all day only to have a couple of contractors who were suing each other reach a settlement prior to trial. Another time, I spent a whole day tied up just so some criminally insane person could be reexamined as required by law so he could be locked back up. Both prosecution & defense said he was too dangerous to even appear in court, so he was put back into the looney bin sight unseen. Didn't feel good about that....but no one went along with me when I said I would at least like to see the guy for myself. I spent another 3 unpleasant days on a criminal trial jury in a case involving a black man who was a lifelong repeat offender who happened to "mace" a policeman in the process of shop lifting at a drug store. The ethnically diverse jury got pretty ugly in its deliberations, being pretty well split into a black vs. white thing - regardless of the facts. Another time or two, I just had to hang out all day at the courthouse and never got called for a panel. Anyway, I seem to receive summonses almost every 6 months now and just toss them in the trash after learning that there is no punishment and coming to feel that most of what goes on is not worth my personal time. There it is....

Posted by: CP on April 21, 2004 11:20 AM

Personally, I think jury duty os a form of slvery. We are supposed to be a free country and yet we are forced to do this. I can't afford to miss one day of work and will say anything I thought would work to get dismissed. It may sound disgusting to some but slavery was abolished a long time ago.

Posted by: terri on August 26, 2004 10:34 AM

Thanks to this site, I'm skipping my jury duty. 45% of 401,090 is like 172,469 people. Thats too many to track. Financially...

Posted by: Evader on September 21, 2004 11:15 PM

Want tips on how to goet out of jury duty? Here in the Pittsburgh PA area it's very simple. In fact, it's more simple than the morons who run our court system. The courts first send out these juror questionares. You fill out the questionare and send it back. Then wait a week or two, then you get an actual jury summons. But here in the pittsburgh PA area, Alleghenny county, the little known, but obvious secret to getting out of jury duty is simply not returning the questionare. I got one back in march of 2004. Tossed it with the rest of the trash as an experiment. Here we are in November. Have not heard from them yet. And I don't expect to. I have heard similar stories from different people as to this method. It works because the county is in a money crunch and does not have the people to follow up on he questionares like they used to. So if a questionare is not returned they just go on to the ones that do come back and leave it go. If you have a similar system in where you live I advise you to try it.

Posted by: Barry K. Nelson on November 25, 2004 8:54 AM


If Harris County is so worried about the cost of sending out jury summonses, they ought to simply check their database of names and weed out those with zip codes outside the county.

For instance, I live in Fort Bend County and have for nearly 2 years. But Satuday I got a jury duty notice from the Harris County Disctrict Clerk, telling me to report, even though they themselves sent the damn thing to me at my Fort Bend County residence.


Posted by: UncleBob on February 14, 2005 12:37 PM

I just did jury duty in Dallas Count and my goal was to not spend any money since they only pay $6 per day. The invitation to do dury duty included a one day pass on Dart. I work very close to a DART light rail station so I went to work about and hour early and got on the red line at 7:08. I got off at the West End station and caught bus 42 to the court house. I went through security a couple of minutes before 8. Other people arrived later than me and they were not treated badly. I sat in a room with about two or three thousand other jurors in theater seats. The ones in charge showed a short video and then started dispatching groups of jurors to specific courts within the building. I was picked for a county criminal court. The judge talked for about an hour and a half about the law that was alegedly broken and the duties of each partipicant in the case. I was sitting in the the back row (3) of about 30 prospective jurors and questions were asked of the jurors. We were dismissed to the hallway while the attourneys and the judge picked the jury of 6. I was not picked fortunately. I left the court house at about 1:00.

I returned the way I came and worked the rest of the day. I was hungry when I went home but I accomplished my goal.

I heard a news article yesterday that the county was cracking down on those who don't show up for jury duty. They are planning to bring charges against no-shows. I guess I avoided this situation by doing jury duty.

One change I did hear about is that they are planning to pay jurors $40 per day after the first day.

I think they will get better results by enforcing jury duty and paying more. I wonder though if they can really enforce the charges unless they notify jurors with certified letters. If I were in charge of enforcement I would send a certified letter to anyone who didn't show up and invite them again. If they received the certified letter then they are more likely to show up.

Posted by: John on June 30, 2005 4:01 PM

jury duty is a privilege. Its not slavery! Its the way we avoid chains! We get to be innocent until proven guilty. We get people from the community to make that decision instead of the cop who busted you or some political hack in robes. Remember one thing, YOU can be in a trial facing serious jail time just because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time or looked out of place near a crime scene or whatever.

You WANT people just like you sitting in the jury box and thinking about real life issues and not just a bunch of guys that work together to try and get the highest conviction rate in the state or county. This is your opportunity to keep big brother from stomping on your rights and you just want to give your rights up?

Maybe this country doesn't deserve to survive if that is the kind of people we have walking around. Do you understand nothing about how your rights are protected? Its not just Miranda or the Constitution. Its the right of the people to protect THEMSELVES from arbitrary or oppressive laws.

One other thing, the next time they raise your property taxes or your rent goes up remember that the money they are wasting finding jurors is coming out of YOUR pocket. It isn't growing on trees.

What a bunch of goobs...I bet you are all Democrats....

Posted by: Ray on July 20, 2005 12:39 AM

Hardly. I'm a Republican, and unlike the Democrats who want to bring back the Draft, I have a lot of respect for the constitution. The 13th Amendment is clear, and it's frankly unbelievable that jury duty hasn't been challenged under it yet.

Posted by: Ray G. on January 1, 2006 2:21 PM

How I get out of jury duty - When I get one of those silly envelopes, I drag out a pen and scrawl REFUSED on the envelope and drop it off into the nearest mailbox.

Posted by: JM on January 13, 2006 12:09 AM

When they start paying more on the FIRST day and make it where it makes sense, I'll go. I did serve on Federal Grand Jury in FW and it was once a month for 18 months...yes, 1 1/2 years I had to go and do this. Ok, I learned a lot, like don't commit a crime with a gun unless it is manufactured in that state, but come on. that is way too long IMHO. But $6 a day? that is worse than a min wage job and let's think about parking will eat that up. shoot, that doesn't even pay for lunch (or barely). I work on commission and I lose more money by attending than not. that said I am going tomorrow and they better not tell me to come back the next day at 1pm. that is what they did the last time many years ago. I take off from work and they want me to come back the next day at 1pm. I work in Dallas and this was in FW. not good

Posted by: Leslie on February 8, 2006 3:36 PM

i'm in the process of moving to another state and got summoned to a date one week before i leave town. i've been debating my options, but i think i can't claim i'm no longer a resident since i technically still am. jury duty is slavery, my employer doesn't pay for jury duty vacation and Dallas county doesn't care. this is clearly something that is wrong, it's like the county takes money out of your pocket and threatens to charge you with a crime if you don't comply. maybe we need to pay people their wages for serving in juries and prosecute less crimes so "we the people" can afford it. just focus on the big stuff and stop hounding citizens for smaller things. most people break a law every week given there are so many you can't possibly know them all, so why tax citizens enforcing so many laws?

Posted by: unlucky on March 20, 2006 11:21 PM