Legally Speaking: How Not to Get Out of Jury Duty (Part 2)

By John G. Browning | Dec 1, 2010

In last week's installment, I shared a few of the more bizarre circumstances under which people have avoided jury duty.

But those seeking to shirk their civil responsibility should also be aware of some cautionary tales from people who have tried to get out of jury service – the wrong way.

Helpful Hint #8 – Sarcasm Doesn't Work

In 2006, Benjamin Ratliffe of Columbus, Ohio, filled out a questionnaire for potential jurors in a double homicide case.

In his responses, he claimed to have a "bad jonesin' for heroin," and when asked if he'd ever fired a weapon, Ratliffe wrote "Yes. I killed someone with it, of course. Right."

Calling his sarcastic responses a mockery of the justice system, Judge Julie Lynch charged Ratliffe with contempt of court and obstruction of justice.

After a night in jail, a chastened Ratliffe was apologetic, saying that he simply didn't believe in the death penalty and wanted to be excused from the trial. Ultimately, he was removed from the jury pool.

Helpful Hint #9 – Profanity Doesn't Work, Either

Recently, Timothy Michael Jones of Yuma, Ariz., received a jury duty summons.

Rather than revel in the opportunity to see the Sixth Amendment in action, or even ignore the summons, Jones decided to write obscenities on the summons and mail it back.

That didn't sit too well with Yuma County Superior Court Judge Andrew Gould, who ordered Jones to appear and explain himself. Adding some more poor judgment to an already bad situation, Jones failed to show up.

Judge Gould issued a bench warrant for Jones' arrest on a charge of indirect criminal contempt.

Helpful Hint #10 – Sarcasm and Profanity Don't Work

Erik Slye of Belgrade, Mont., must have been a pretty busy guy in January 2009. The 36 year old took a rather unique approach to why he should be excused from jury duty.

He sent in a signed affidavit that said, in part "Apparently you morons didn't understand me the first time. I CANNOT take time off from work . . . I don't believe in our 'justice' system and I don't want to have a [expletive deleted] thing to do with it. Jury service is a complete waste of time. I would rather count the wrinkles on my dog's [scrotum] than sit on a jury. Get it through your thick skulls. Leave me the [expletive deleted] alone."

Tell us how you really feel, Erik.

The judge for the Gallatin County District Court was, shall we say, not amused. Slye was ordered to appear in court and, after being threatened with jail, apologized to the court.

In the meantime, his affidavit went viral on the Internet.

Helpful Hint #11 – Sarcasm, Profanity & Lying Don't Work Either

In 2007, Daniel Ellis was really determined to avoid jury duty in Cape Cod, Mass. Summoned along with about 60 other potential jurors for possible service on a grand jury, Ellis wrote on a jury duty questionnaire that he didn't like homosexuals and blacks.

Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary Nickerson questioned Ellis about his responses, and Ellis confirmed that he was a racist and added "I'm frequently found to be a liar, too. I can't really help it."

When Judge Nickerson asked if Ellis was lying now, he said "I don't know, I might be."

Nickerson replied "I have the distinct impression that you're intentionally trying to avoid jury service," and Ellis answered "That's true."

Nickerson ordered Ellis taken into custody.

Helpful Hint #12 – Come to Think of It, Honesty Is No Sure Thing, Either

Mora, Minn., plumber Todd Gilly insists to this day that he wasn't trying to stir up trouble.

When questioned along with other prospective jurors in 2009, Gilly said he could see himself getting "awfully frustrated having to take more time off than . . . a day."

He added that because he doesn't get paid when he's not working, "I could just see myself just going with the flow to get it over with to get back to work."

These responses didn't exactly thrill Kanabec County Chief Judge Timothy Bloomquist, who found Gilly in contempt of court and sentenced him to one day in jail.

Judge Bloomquist said "Apparently you thought that I was just going to sit here and do nothing while you told us all that you intended to disregard about the law and the facts and the rights of both the State and the Defendant because it was inconvenient for you to be here."

Gilly missed more than just two days of work – he missed a parent teacher meeting and his son's championship football game.

He may think twice about being so candid in the future. In the meantime, he says, "I'm still pretty bitter about it."

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