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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.

By Karen Datko Feb 16, 2012 7:06PM

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.

Post continues below.

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.


Still, it can hurt. "WellHeeled" from the Well Heeled Blog presented the scenario of a self-employed person in a post on BlogHer. This person normally makes $30 an hour -- when she's working.

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:


Feb 17, 2012 11:39AM
Instead of choosing jurors from motor vehicle lists, start with the unemployment lists, the welfare rolls, etc. They are already getting paid by the ysytem and would not have to be paid by the courts.
Feb 17, 2012 11:19AM
People should be FULLY reimbursed what they would've earned on their jobs, no two ways about it.
Feb 17, 2012 7:59AM
Jurors need protection. Money is one thing but your life is another. Being a juror on gang trials is very dangerous. Gangs sitting on opposite sides in a court room is no fun. Then they polled us calling us for a vote by our first and last names after convicting a person of murder. 12 people running for their lives after the trial. No Thanks. Its better to see that stuff in the movies where they say juror number 3 how did you vote?
Feb 17, 2012 11:22AM

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.

Feb 17, 2012 11:35AM

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.

Feb 17, 2012 12:08PM
What we should have in civil courts is that juror get $25 a hour  for their tme in court with a decline to $10 a hour for jury delibrations. the cost paid for by the attorney of the loser. should there be a settlement during the trial a $500 bonus to each juror paid by each side or $1000 total. this would make suing a cost for each side and fee for service for the government. making our cost less as citizens.
Feb 17, 2012 10:56AM
Jurors should be paid at least the Federal minimum wage.
Forcing people to take time off of work and serving for free is called slavery. I understand the need for having a jury trial and being judged by your peer's but some cannot afford to lose a days pay. About 2 years ago I was called and had to serve 2 days which meant I had to close down my repair shop for 2 days and not only did I lose the pay but so did 4 other employee's because I didn't have someone to run the front desk so they were off as well.
Feb 17, 2012 1:30PM
The current system does not work.  It is impossible for someone to put 100% concentration into testimony and deliberation when they are worried about the money they are not making sitting on a jury.  I can't imagine how many verdicts have been reached because jurors simply want it to all be over and get back to their lives.  I agree with others, that either employers should be required to pay for jury duty at least to a point, or that we have professional juries.  I was selected for jury duty for a civil trial last November, the trial lasted 6 days, never started on time, too many breaks, way too much unnecessary testimony and one day the entire courthouse was evacuated for 2 hours for a fire drill.  Whatever civic duty I felt at the beginning wore off very quickly.
Feb 17, 2012 10:58AM

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?

Feb 17, 2012 3:24PM
All you complainers.  Don't you realize this is all about lawyers making $400.00 an hour while you peons are debating about whether $15.00 will get you to court.  You will be able to order a PBJ sandwich while the lawyers dine on Steak Tartar, escargot, and a filet mignon during their 2 hour lunch, then come back to court and lie about their client.

Feb 17, 2012 2:24PM
I would love to do jury duty but I'm a stay at home mom.  Provide child care and I am there.  Of course then I have the problem of getting to court since the transit system in my area is limited to say the least.  The $10 a day you get payed in Washington state doesn't even cover cab fare one way so I would lose money to serve.  Take care of my kid and pay our transportation costs and you got yourself a juror.
Feb 17, 2012 5:39PM
in pennsylvania financial hardships are not excused, they pay 9 dollars a day. my wife is summoned for next month. she is the only one in a family of 5  left with a job. her job will not pay her for it. has no vac or sick days at this job, I don't even have unemployment. we have no money left and are on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness. We have explained this to them but  they say she must serve or face jail time. she must volunteer her time while the judges and lawyers collect 6 digit salaries to sit in the same room. I have not ever been picked to serve in over 40 years. they should make it a condition of receiving unemployment  to have to serve jury duty( the state is already paying those people) Just another example of the totally screwed up government in this country
Feb 17, 2012 12:17PM
I think they need to make this a job opportunity/generate employment, like being hired as a waitress or some other form of job. If judges and lawyers can sit all day hearing case after case, then so can people who are hired on as  jurors who do this as a 9-5 job every day AND get paid very well for doing it, provided they undergo screenings of various things, psychological, background checks, etc, to make sure who they are hiring are competent to do this "job."  Civil responsibility? It sounds so "sheeple" like....Yah, not a big fan of jury duty here..Thinking
Feb 17, 2012 11:31AM
I am self employed.  I am under every kind of request/pressure/obligation to get things done.  Jury Duty in Cook County <recently declared the most corrupt city/county/state in the USA> used to be easy to handle.  During the interview, I always ask to be excused due to hardship, the Judge <or Team Member of the litigants depending on your point of view> says no.  When the Lawyers ask me a question, I always respond the same way " Ahem <trying to look excited> Does this case involve the Death Penalty?  Being a Republican, I really want to get to vote on that again!".  I am usually almost always excused on the spot.  Wearing my USA FLAG PIN, I collect up my Bill O'Reilly or Glen Beck book whichever is newer and I leave, PAY UP TO $40 for parking and go to work.  Funny thing though, in Cook County, as a registered Republican, I get called to duty every six months.  Funny how that "random selection" works!  On the selection process, it seems that the Lawyers always look for those fine "green" minded citizens that have no opinions on anything important except of course "man made global warming" or that they are "entitled to everything for free"!  You know the type! They parked their Lexus or Prius in the Handicap spot using someone else's tag <or got it from their SKIN DOCTOR> and wonder what abuses did the poor victim <perpetrator> endure as a child that they get to correct!
Feb 17, 2012 11:31AM
When I was drafted, I spent two years at less then 25% pay. When I have been called for jury duty, I have been paid expenses. When I vote, I am not paid at all. This is America - the systems must be kept up. I get a little short with those who don't even want to pay enough taxes to keep the country going.
Feb 16, 2012 10:28PM
I have been on jury duty a number times over the years, under three different employers, and my employer has always paid my full salary. After about 1995, I got full pay and was allowed to keep my juror pay in addition because the company I worked for figured out that the accounting costs weren't worth it.

The idea of "professional juries" is a clear and absolute violation of the US Constitution.
Feb 17, 2012 3:32PM
They should pull jurors from people signing up for un-employment. Maybe make it a requirement of getting your un-employment check. They cant call it a financial hardship when they don't have a job!
Feb 17, 2012 3:35PM
I agree the unemployed  and welfare should be the first line of defense.  Let's face it, the fewer hours I work the less income I make and subsequently, the lower my tax bill.  So it is in the states best interest to keep me employed.   And yes,  the jurors bill should be paid by BOTH attorneys.

Feb 17, 2012 3:31PM
If you get called, when they are questioning you, just tell them you think he/she is guilty as hell and should get the death penalty. Worked for the man sitting next to me when he was questioned.
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