Jury Dodgers: What really happens if you ignore your jury summons?

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You know you've been tempted to do it - to toss your jury summons in the garbage and pretend it got lost in the mail. Besides, what's the worst that can happen? It's not like missing jury duty is a crime...or is it?

One person not likely to ignore another jury summons is Jermaine Dupri, CEO of So So Def Recordings. Dupri recently served a three-day jail sentence in Fayetteville, Georgia for missing jury duty in March 1999. With as much as 80 percent of the population shirking jury duty in some counties, more courts are starting to crack down.

In 2003, Massachusetts fined nearly 48,000 people $2000 each for missing jury duty, under new laws that criminalize repeat offenders. Los Angeles County has fined residents who failed to serve jury duty a total of over $940,000. New YorkCounty fined 1,443 jury dodgers in Manhattan $250 each.

Ignore your summons in Phoenix, Arizona, and a sheriff's deputy just might show up at your door. In many jurisdictions, bench warrants are issued for those failing to appear, which could lead to arrests during routine traffic stops.

Some districts choose incentives over punishment, offering cheap parking, restaurant coupons, and compensation of about $15 a day. At least seven states have redesigned their systems to reduce time spent waiting in assembly rooms. Nearly half the states are considering legislation that would provide more compensation for long trials, and Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi already have already passed such legislation.

By some estimates, as many as 25 percent of jury summons really do get lost in the mail, because of outdated or inaccurate address information, and some people do have legitimate excuses for not being able to serve, such as a handicap or illness.

Most judges however will not excuse you just because you might be missing work or school, although they may defer your service. Why? Well, by law, your employer cannot penalize you for being absent while serving jury duty, and most colleges and universities have similar policies for missing class.

The bottom line is, if you think your excuse is valid, you better show up and tell it to the judge. Judges are fed up with those who ignore their summons outright, so if you respond to yours and plead your case, the judge just might let you out of it. But if he doesn't, don't despair - you may be selected to serve on the trial of the century, and just think of the book deals! But all kidding aside, serving on any jury is better than serving time.