Legally Speaking: How Not to Get Out of Jury Duty (Part 1)

John G. Browning Nov. 23, 2010, 7:59am

Lawyers get hit up for free legal advice all the time. One of the most frequently-asked questions is "how can I get out of jury duty?"

I wish more people took their civic responsibility of serving on a jury more seriously. In a survey conducted by the American Bar Association, 84 percent of the individuals responding agreed that it's a duty that should be fulfilled, regardless of the inconvenience.

Yet in many counties, the "no-show" rate is 20 percent or even higher.

Some legal observers believe that with the struggling economy, the financial burden of missing work to serve on a panel has kept even more people from appearing for jury service.

Well, being the good lawyer and responsible citizen that I am, I won't give you any advice about skipping out on performing your civic obligation. But I will pass on a few helpful hints about what's worked – and hasn't worked – for would-be jurors down at the courthouse.

Helpful Hint #1 – Befriend a Serial Killer

The lawyers, Judge John Sutula, and pretty much everybody in the Cleveland, Ohio, courtroom were taken aback by the response they heard from the jury pool to the question "Has anyone you know ever been convicted of a crime?"

The answer from prospective juror John Backderf was "I had a close friend in high school who killed 17 people."

Backderf, a cartoonist and graphic novelist, went to high school with notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Backderf has even written and illustrated a collection of short stories, soon to be published as a graphic novel entitled "My Friend Dahmer."

Yeah, you guessed it – Backderf was dismissed from the jury panel.

Helpful Hint #2 - Die

A woman in Arlington, Wash., was a little annoyed that her husband kept on getting jury summonses. After all, he'd been dead since 2005.

Finally, she marched on down to the courthouse with his death certificate in hopes that authorities would remove him from the jury rolls.

"It's totally amazing that even with modern technology, we can't manage these records. If they can't keep track of dead people, how can they keep track of criminals, or monitor sex offenders?" she wondered.

Helpful Hint #3 – Be a Baby

In 2006, Kaylee Reynolds received a summons to serve on a Taunton District Court jury in New Bedford, Mass. She probably wouldn't have made a very good juror, given her inability to read and her propensity for getting cranky without an afternoon nap.

But, as her mother explained to the local jury commissioner, Kaylee had a pretty good excuse – she was only 2 years old!

The mixup was taken care of and little Kaylee has a reprieve from jury service – at least until she's 18.

Helpful Hint #4 – Change Your Name to Jesus Christ

In 2009, a 59-year-old woman formerly known as Dorothy Lola Killingworth appeared for jury service in Jefferson County, Ala.

However, she wanted to be known by the name she had legally changed to (and which appeared on her driver's license): Jesus Christ.

Although she was assigned to a panel, she was ultimately excused for being "disruptive."

There's no word on what being "disruptive" meant – was she delivering a sermon in the jury room, or trying to turn the water into wine? We'll never know.

Helpful Hint #5 – Be a Celebrity

Celebrities are no different from the rest of us: they get jury notices as well. Even President Obama received a jury duty summons in Chicago within the past year.

But when "A-Team" and "Rocky III" star Mr. T appeared dutifully for jury duty in 2009 at Chicago's Cook County Criminal Court, he wasn't chosen to serve.

Was it the Mohawk, or perhaps all the gold chains?

It certainly wasn't his attitude – Mr. T actually seemed eager to serve.

He told reporters as he left the courthouse, "If you're innocent, I'm your best man. But if you're guilty, I pity that fool."

Helpful Hint #6 – Bring a Sword to the Courthouse

In 2007, police in New York detained a 40-year-old man who appeared for jury duty at Brooklyn Supreme Court.

The problem? He showed up with a 30-inch sword cane and a 6-inch dagger.

He pleaded ignorance, claiming he didn't know it was illegal to walk into a courthouse armed.

Word to the wise: it's jury duty – not a costume party, not the Renaissance Faire, and not Medieval Times.

Keep those swords (and other weaponry) at home, boys and girls.

Helpful Hint #7 – Don't Just Leave

I know that trials on TV legal dramas are a lot more exciting, feature only good looking lawyers, and wrap things up in a hour (minus commercial breaks), but just because things are moving at a slow pace and may be dull is no excuse to just walk away from jury duty, as 25-year-old Grant Faber of Oregon did last year.

After being at the courthouse for half a day waiting to be picked, Faber just left, saying he was "extremely bored" and "just couldn't take it" anymore.

Washington County Circuit Judge Gayle Nachtigal was not amused, and not only issued a bench warrant for his arrest but even sent the sheriffs after him.

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