Last updated: March 2008
The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.
How can I get out of jury duty? I got summoned, but I can’t afford to take time away from work. Is there some procedure I can go through to be excused?
You can ask to be excused for "undue hardship." It will be up to your local jury commission or jury administrator to decide if your excuse is good. Just wanting to "get out" of jury duty won’t work very often, though.
If you’re only temporarily unable to serve—for example, if it’s harvest time, or if you’re in the middle of a major project—it’s not too hard to get a deferment until a later month. That usually just takes a phone call to the circuit clerk or a request on the questionnaire some counties ask you to return when you’re summoned.
To be excused for a longer period of time or to be actually removed from the list that is used to summon jurors, you have to demonstrate that doing your jury duty would be an "undue hardship." The Illinois Jury Act says getting out of jury duty depends on "the nature of the prospective juror’s occupation, business affairs, physical health, family situation," and active duty in the National Guard.
With regards to "family situation," the Act says that someone "shall" be excused for hardship if they are the "primary care giver of a person with a mental or physical disability, a person with a medically diagnosed behavior problem, or a child under age 12," but only if "no reasonable alternative care is feasible." Although that sounds like a tough standard, in reality parents caring for kids may not find it too hard to be excused.
Larger counties (population 75,000 or more) have jury commissions that decide who gets excused from jury duty. Champaign County’s commission meets one day a month, and people can show up to present their case for being excused.
In smaller counties, a jury administrator--who may be someone at circuit clerk’s office--makes the decision. In those smaller counties, the jury administrator can also refer cases to a local judge to decide on an excuse.
While the court system tries to be accommodating, jury duty is taken seriously. Expect to document your request for an excuse, and be ready to serve in the future. Most counties are reluctant to excuse able-bodied people for good.
The jury list that is used to summon jurors consists of registered voters, anyone with a drivers license, and anyone with a State ID card. Illinois law says that jurors must live in the county that summons them, be 18 years of age, be a U.S. citizen and be "free from all legal exception, of fair character, of approved integrity, of sound judgment, well informed, and able to the understand the English language, whether in spoken or written form or interpreted into sign language."
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