Years ago when I was a law clerk and had no children I had no pity for the prospective jurors who came in and reported that they had no child care available if selected; couldn't afford child care for their young children if chosen to serve; couldn't afford to miss work and a pay check since they were supporting a young family, etc. It's not that I didn't think it would be difficult for them to figure out, but I had a hard line approach to serving on a jury as being a civic duty.
That was then. This is now. While I still believe that if called to serve on a jury each person should do his or her best to make the schedule work, I now understand how difficult it can be for so many. First, there is the issue of child care if you have youngsters at home or coming home at noon or 2 from school or if you have a special needs child or are providing elder care, etc. Secondly, there is the issue of money; either not having the funds to pay for child care or losing money because you won't be able to work for several weeks and your employer won't pay you while you do your civic duty, which means you won't have the money you need to provide for your family.
There are a number of other circumstances that could cause a hardship for a prospective juror: breastfeeding jurors; homeschooling jurors; jurors providing elder care for a parent or grandparent; low income jurors with already meager wages; stay at home parent jurors; and jurors who have no family in the area to provide free child care during jury duty.
While these are all good, real reasons that someone should be excused from serving, they are not exceptions to serving in every court in every state. For the courts without an automatic exemption for certain personal care obligations, if you received a notice for jury duty, you would still have to find child care and/or take off work and go up to the courthouse; wait with the rest of the jury pool to see if your number is called; and if it is, then you would have to sit through voir dire; answer the questions honestly; plead your hardships; and hope you were excused from the jury, for these or any other reason.
Courts with Exemptions
There are courts, some state and some federal, that do make certain exceptions. Click here for the Family Friendly Jury Duty's list of courts and their parental exemptions to jury duty. For the most part, the federal courts tend to provide more leniencies for granting exceptions to parents who must care for their youngsters or their aged and/or infirm family members. A number of states do allow for exemptions for those with children 10 or under. Some states allow for breastfeeding women to take an exemption, as well. Approximately half of the states in the U.S. have some kind of provision exempting parents with personal care obligations from serving on a jury; only a few specifically exempt homeschooling parents.
This is not to say that if a court does not have a specific exemption for parents with personal care obligations, whether it's an elderly parent or 3 year old child or 12 year old child being homeschooled, that you won't be excused. You still could be excused for these or other completely unrelated reasons, but it won't be automatic.
Why Do We Have Juries
If you have ever wondered why we have juries and the history behind the jury system, the Family Friendly Jury Duty site provides an interesting look at juries. In my experience as a law clerk, juries were often made up of people in the early 20s, who did not have families to consider and could figure out a way to miss work, and people in their 50s and 60s, who no longer had children at home and were often retired.
Is this the way it should be? Is this a fair representation of one's peers? Should this burden fall to the young and the old? Maybe not, but it's a hard knock life for many right now; barely making it paycheck to paycheck; forgoing child care altogether and scraping by day to day, without the extra burden of missing work and/or having to find and pay for child care in order to ensure that justice is served in a court of law.
Jury duty was not meant to be a burden on the people. It was meant to be a part of the due process of law, ensuring a fair and just trial. Has it become a burden? Do juries ensure a fair and just trial? Should all parents with personal care obligations be automatically exempted from serving on juries in all courts? Over and out....