Jury duty: Can you afford it?
If you're called, prepare to take a financial hit. No wonder so many people are reluctant to serve.
Hear that sound? It's the collective groan of everyone who just opened the mail and found a summons for jury duty. If you've been there, you know what I mean.
Yes, we all know that a jury of our peers is the foundation of our justice system, but the fact is that it can be a financial drain -- and a big hit for some. It's no small wonder that the no-show rate is 50% in some locations.
I had jury duty recently and noticed that some people were very anxious about the possibility of getting picked for the trial. It likely meant no paycheck. It made me wonder how well justice is served when otherwise well-meaning jurors are watching the clock.
Bruce Watson wrote about his own jury experience at DailyFinance about two years ago. From his account:
As the trial continued into its second week, things got tougher: One member, a therapist, started to feel the hardship of lost billings, while another grew heavy-eyed as her all-night hospital residence shift bumped up against her daytime responsibilities in the courtroom. One found out that her employer was docking her pay, giving her only the $40 per day that the state of New York requires.
By the time we got to the jury room to decide the case, it seemed like most of us had an eye on the meter: After a few hours of argument, one juror joked that we might need to talk for another day before rendering a verdict. The room suddenly became very quiet as a soft voice replied "For real, y'all, I can't miss another day of work."
My jury duty was in federal district court, about 110 miles away, and paid $40 for my travel day and another $40 for my morning in the jury box (I wasn't selected). However, juror pay varies widely across the country. For example:
- In Massachusetts, an employer must pay an employee on jury duty in state courts at the worker's regular rate for up to three days. After that, the state pays $50 a day.
- In Florida, it's $15 a day for three days and $25 a day after that. Generally employers aren't required to pay.
- In Washington state, jurors are usually paid $10 a day.
- In Houston Municipal Court, it's $6 for the day.
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There are exemptions from service in many courts for those who are caring for small children or aging parents, as well as for those who can show a devastating financial hardship if they were picked for a trial. But be prepared to prove your point with paystubs, tax returns and other documentation. Simply losing some pay won't cut it with the judge.
For her five-day service, this contractor would have lost $900 in net income and earned $45 in net income. That's a net loss of over $850!
Meanwhile, the number of no-shows is astounding in some jurisdictions. (It apparently rose noticeably when courts switched from summoning jurors from among those good citizens who register to vote to the much larger pool of everyone who's licensed to drive.) Notes the Sun Sentinel in South Florida:
In Broward, of the 139,366 potential jurors summoned in 2010, about 57,572 people showed. About 30% of those who didn't show were exempted, but the rest blew it off. Miami-Dade County mirrors the trend, with only 38% of potential jurors showing up.
Whether no-shows face consequences depends on the resources and will of the courts to enforce the law. You could go penalty-free or be fined or, in some cases, jailed. Personally, I considered it my duty to serve. I also dreaded the thought of a U.S. marshal showing up at my door (unless he looked like Tommy Lee Jones).
Surely there must be a better way. Among suggestions we found for improving the system:
- Increase the pay -- unlikely with the financial condition many governments find themselves in.
- Require all employers to pay workers called for jury duty at their normal rate for a limited number of days, minus juror pay. (Small businesses are often exempted in states that require this.)
- Make jury pay tax-free and also allow deductions for juror expenses that aren't reimbursed. For instance, some courts don't pay for mileage.
Here's the bottom line on my jury duty:
- I'm self-employed, so I'm not paid if I don't work. Total lost pay was about 1.5 days. (I'm keeping the exact amount to myself.)
- An additional loss of $50 to pay the pet/house sitter.
In exchange for my service, I got a check for $367.45, which included:
- $80 for two days of attendance pay.
- $112.20 for mileage at 51 cents per mile.
- $123 for hotel reimbursement and meals (per diem) my first day, plus $6.25 for the hotel tax.
- $46 per diem for my second day, which included the drive home.
Overall, it was a sustainable hit for someone with a substantial emergency fund. Plus, I enjoyed the experience. However, others aren't so fortunate.
What's a prospective juror to do? Accept it and do your best to be impartial and thoughtful. I told myself this: If I were accused (falsely, of course) of a crime, I'd want jurors who are proud to do their duty and have banished thoughts of their bank accounts.
Do you have a story of jury duty to share?
More on MSN Money:
First, I think people should be paid their regular rate of pay with the court picking up the cost and people who are not employed should be paid minimum wage for their services. The judges and lawyers are paid, why should the jury work for free?
I also think that people should be able to volunteer for jury duty and that when jury pools are formed a significant portion of those seats should be filled by people that want to be there. There should probably be a limit as to the number of times per year that someone could serve so that people cannot become professional jurors, but I'm sure there are many people, particularly retirees, college students and people active in politics who would actually be glad to participate in the process.
Next, they need to make the jury selection process more efficient. I think people could take surveys to be weeded out early in the process so that you don't need 50 people sitting for 4 hours to select a jury for a relatively minor incident.
Finally, I think there should be a better process for determining which cases need a jury and which can be decided by a judge. I've been called for jury duty twice and both times the cases were stupid and a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. The first one was to determine if a porn shop was violating laws about selling prurient materials. The other one was to determine if a child should be awarded damages for his pet pit bull being shot by an officer while conducting a drug bust in the parent's home.
So because some idiot breaks the law, I have to sacrifice my time and money to decide whether or not he/she is guilty or innocent? Being fully reimbursed for my time/money should be mandatory. It is mandatory that I show up, it should be mandatory that I don't lose any pay for it. after all, it is a constitutional right to have a jury trial.
Why dont they pick out of the millions pf people who dont have jobs and are on welfare to serve/ At least they could get some money.
I am self-employed, and usually under contract to get a job done by a deadline, or face financial penalty (on top of not collecting hourly billings). This is thousands or dollars in a week, which translates into substantial tax income for the government that is also lost.
A jury of peers is an important part of our society, but can someone give a good counter argument why the jury shouldn't be comprised completely of individuals collecting unemployment or welfare? It seems that the process is still well served, and both the individual cost (income), and collective cost (tax revenue) are averted. Also, since those on unemployment are being paid by the state already, why would additional jury pay, (other than travel expense) be necessary?
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