The U.S. and Georgia constitutions protect the right to a trial by jury in both criminal and civil matters. In a jury trial, an impartial panel of ordinary people weighs the evidence and determines the facts of the case.

But jury trials rely on ordinary people appearing for jury duty. Without an adequate pool of jurors, the justice system could grind to a halt.

Here is some information about what happens when people do not appear for jury duty.

Jury Selection Process

The court clerk sends out notices to ordinary citizens summoning them for jury duty. The summons will include the date and time you should appear.

When you appear, you will go to an assembly room where you will show your summons. This verifies that you appeared as ordered. You may be asked to fill out some paperwork before taking a seat to wait.

Judges with trials scheduled for that day will send a bailiff to gather a jury pool. Judges usually use two phases for jury selection.

Screening

The judge will screen the jury pool to eliminate any jurors who cannot serve. The judge usually describes the case and identifies the parties and lawyers in the case. The judge will excuse anyone in the jury pool involved in the case.

The judge will also excuse anyone with a personal or professional relationship with the parties or lawyers. For example, if your cousin owns the shop being sued for a slip and fall accident, the judge will excuse you.

Voir Dire

The lawyers for the parties will ask the remaining jury candidates questions. Each party will have an unlimited number of strikes for cause and a limited number of strikes for no cause.

What Happens if You Fail to Appear for Jury Duty?

At any of those screening stages, you could get sent home without needing to serve on a jury. In other words, you do not need to serve on a jury to satisfy your jury duty. Instead, you only need to respond to the jury summons. 

If you get sent home at 9:30 a.m. because the personal injury case scheduled for trial that day settled, you have still satisfied the jury summons.

Appearing is usually simpler than facing the consequences of failing to appear. Judges have broad authority to punish disobedience in their courts. If you disobey a jury summons, a judge can hold you in contempt of court.

The judge will order you to appear in court. This “show cause” order will require you to present evidence why the judge should not hold you in contempt. 

In other words, the judge already determined that you violated the summons and should be punished. The hearing gives you a chance to explain why the judge should not punish you.

If the judge holds you in contempt, the judge can fine you up to $1,000 and jail you for up to 20 days.

Getting Excused from Jury Duty

If you simply cannot appear for jury duty, you can obtain an excusal before your summons date. 

You must file an affidavit with the court clerk that alleges one of the statutory grounds for excusal, such as:

  • Workers necessary to public health, safety, or good order
  • People with permanent mental or physical disabilities
  • Full-time college, university, or vocational school students
  • Primary caregivers for children six years of age or younger
  • Primary teachers in a home study program
  • Unpaid caregivers for people with physical or cognitive limitations who cannot be left unattended
  • Seniors 70 years of age or older
  • Service members and their spouses

Once again, getting an excusal will save you the risk of fines and jail.

Fulfilling Your Civic Duty

Despite the time required to serve on a jury, you might find jury service fulfilling. You can learn about the legal process. If you ever need to use the legal system, serving on a jury can give you insight into how a jury will view your case, as well.