If you read or watch the news – or if you’ve even glanced at a newspaper or news website in the last six months – you’re no doubt aware of the criminal investigations and trials of Jerry Sandusky and George Zimmerman. These cases have dominated the media, and we’ve been inundated with information about the defendants, prosecutors, and defense lawyers involved in them. Before a verdict in a high profile case like one of these is entered, however, we (rightfully) hear very little about the members of the jury and their experiences in the process that will determine the parties’ fates.
Our justice system depends, in large part, upon citizens serving on juries when they are called to do so. In fact, your right to a trial by a “jury of your peers” comes along with this important responsibility. Most Illinois adults are required by law to be included on their county’s jury list, and potential jurors will be called in order as needed from the list. Like most other responsibilities, jury duty will impact your life. Members of the Sandusky jury, for example, spent a comparatively short two weeks in trial. They then spent 20 hours sequestered in deliberations before rendering the verdicts. Jurors in the Casey Anthony trial, by contrast, spent six weeks at trial, and rendered a verdict after 10 hours of deliberation.
In light of these lengthy, high profile cases, when you inevitably receive a jury summons, you may be tempted to ignore it and hope for the best. Don’t! There are serious penalties for failure to appear in Illinois, including being held in contempt of court and ordered to pay a monetary penalty. Illinois law gives you certain rights to lessen the impact of jury service on your life: (1) your employer must give you time off from work to serve on the jury; (2) your employer cannot fire you or threaten to fire you because of your jury service; and (3) you will be compensated (though modestly) for your service. The law also recognizes a limited set of exceptions for which potential jurors may be excused from a summons:
1. Undue Hardship. A prospective juror can be excused from jury service under Illinois law if s/he can show that such service would impose an “undue hardship” because of his/her occupation, business affairs, physical health, family situation, active military service, or other personal affairs. If the prospective juror can demonstrate sufficient undue hardship resulting from one of these situations, the excuse from service will not be indefinite – rather s/he will be excused from the pending summons and his/her name will be returned to the jury list for selection at a later date.
2. Caregiver Exception. Illinois law provides that a prospective juror may be excused from service if s/he is the primary caregiver of (a) a person with a mental or physical disability, (b) a person with a medically diagnosed behavior problem, or (c) a child under age 12. This exception is not automatic. For the caregiver exception to apply, the prospective juror must have no reasonable alternative care that would not impose an “undue hardship” on the prospective juror or on the person for whom the prospective juror provides care.
3. Nursing Mother Exception. Illinois law also provides that any nursing mother shall be excused from jury service upon her request.
4. Disability Exception. If a prospective juror is suffering from a “total and permanent disability,” s/he will be excused from service and excluded from all current and subsequent jury lists. As proof of total and permanent disability, the prospective juror must provide a written letter from a licensed physician stating that the prospective juror has a total and permanent disability, describing the disability in detail, and explaining how the disability prevents the prospective juror from serving on a jury. The letter must also specifically state that the prospective juror will never have the capacity to serve as a juror in the future.
If you receive a summons for Illinois jury service, you should always use your best efforts to fulfill this important civic duty; however, you should also be aware of your rights regarding your service and your possible eligibility to be excused from service. Should you have specific questions about a jury duty summons, contact your attorney.
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Disclaimer: This article provides legal information of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship with any person or group of persons. Should you wish to obtain legal advice concerning your particular situation, contact an attorney.