How to Get Out of Jury Duty in Charleston, SC
Whoa, wait a minute, hold on there…
Most people don’t want to spend their time sitting on a jury – it’s inconvenient, it’s annoying, and, if you don’t want to be there, it’s involuntary servitude no question about it.
There are valid reasons why people are excused from jury duty, and some people won’t qualify for jury duty anyway. But, if you don’t fall into those categories, consider this: Often, the people who are trying the hardest to get out of jury duty are also the people who need to be there.
What are the exemptions and disqualifications that allow people to avoid jury duty? And, why should you stop trying to get out of jury duty and stay?
SC Laws on Jury Duty
If you want to learn about how jurors are chosen, summoned, and the rules that courts follow during the selection process, they are found in SC Code Section 14-7-10.
Jurors can “avoid” serving on a jury if they are disqualified or exempted from jury service, they can postpone jury service in some cases, and there are other miscellaneous provisions in SC law jury laws that allow the court to excuse jurors.
Disqualifications from Jury Duty in SC
There are a number of disqualifications that make a person ineligible to serve as a juror – if these apply to you, you cannot serve on a jury even if you want to:
- A conviction in any court of a crime that has a potential sentence of one year or more, unless you have received a pardon or amnesty and your civil rights have been restored;
- Inability to read, write, speak, or understand the English language;
- Inability to serve because of physical or mental infirmity;
- Less than a sixth-grade education or its equivalent (most courts consider full-time employment the equivalent…);
- If you are employed at the courthouse; or
- If you served on the grand jury that indicted the case to be tried.
Exemptions from Jury Duty in SC
If you are 65 years of age or older, you are exempted from jury service – this means that you can serve on the jury if you want to, but you don’t have to.
If you choose not to serve, you can call the clerk of court ahead of time, confirm your age and date of birth, and they will excuse you so you don’t have to appear at all…
Postponement of Jury Duty in SC
If you are a student or a teacher at any public or private school, and if you are called for jury duty during the school year, you can ask the court to postpone your jury duty until the summertime or whenever you are not in school.
Frequency of Jury Service in SC
You don’t have to serve on a jury if you have been called for jury duty in the same court within the last three years – you can serve if you choose to, though. If you were called for jury duty in the same court within the last year, you cannot serve as a juror.
This only applies to the court you have been summoned to – for example, if you served as a juror in the magistrate court, municipal court, or federal court six months ago, that is not a reason for the court to excuse you from jury duty this week in the circuit court…
The Court Can Excuse You from Jury Duty for “Good Cause”
In some situations, the law permits the court to excuse potential jurors, or reschedule their jury service to another term of court, for “good cause,” which includes:
- A person who is the primary caretaker of a child less than seven years old;
- A person who is the primary caretaker of a person 65 years of age or older;
- A person who is the primary caretaker of a severely disabled person who cannot care for themselves; or
- Any person who has demonstrated “good cause” to the judge – some judges are more liberal with this than others, but the bottom line is it must be a really good reason that prevents you from serving as a juror that particular week.
Voir Dire, Peremptory Challenges, and Challenges for Cause in SC
Once the court has “qualified” the jury pool – excusing all jurors that are disqualified or exempted for one of the reasons above – the attorneys will select jurors for their cases from the remaining jurors.
Jurors that survived the qualification process may still be excused from the trial of a particular case, however – jurors will be chosen based on questions that the court asks them and the answers that they give.
Voir Dire in SC Jury Trials
With few exceptions (death penalty trials), there is no attorney-conducted voir dire in South Carolina. The judge will ask questions during jury qualification – the prosecutor and defense can submit questions for the judge to ask, but they cannot question jurors themselves…
The court will typically ask questions of the entire jury panel to determine whether they can be fair and impartial to both sides – jurors who answer in the affirmative will stand and may be asked to approach the front of the courtroom so that their answers are only heard by the judge, attorneys, and court reporter.
The key question is whether a juror can be impartial – even when a juror responds that they know a witness or have knowledge about the facts of a case from media coverage, the court’s follow-up question will always be something like, “Given that you went to school with Ms. X, can you be fair and impartial to both sides?”
If the answer is yes, the court will usually keep the juror – but, it provides valuable information that helps the attorneys choose to excuse or keep the juror. If the answer is no, or maybe, the court might still try to “rehabilitate” the juror – if the court can get the juror to change their answer and say yes, they will often keep the juror.
Peremptory Challenges and Challenges for Cause
After the court finishes voir dire, the clerk selects jurors at random – the prosecutor and then the defense will say whether they want to keep the juror or excuse the juror from the trial of that particular case.
Each side gets a set number of “strikes” that they can use on any juror for any reason that is not discriminatory – for example, if the prosecution appears to be using their strikes to remove black jurors, the defense can make what is called a “Batson motion,” requiring the prosecutor to prove that there is a race-neutral reason for their decision to strike each potential juror.
Each side can also move to strike a juror for cause – if there is a provable, obvious reason that a juror cannot be impartial, it should not count as one of the attorney’s “strikes” for the court to excuse them.
Why Should I Stay on the Jury?
I understand that some people simply cannot serve as a juror – the exemptions and disqualifications listed above make sense (although I think convicted felons should be allowed to serve on juries – they have some experience, right?).
But, if you can serve and just really don’t want to, please take a minute to consider why you should stay and how it can make a difference.
I’m not going to wave the flag here and tell you about civic duty – as noble as it sounds, that doesn’t motivate most people, and I get that.
We Need Independent, Critical Thinkers on Juries
There are a lot of people who want to serve on juries. They are civic-minded, support the government, and they like “law and order.” Many of these people are also people who are willing to believe anything a police officer or prosecutor says, which hardly makes for an impartial trial.
On the other hand, a lot of people who want to get out of jury duty don’t want to do it because they hate the government or don’t trust the government. If you don’t want the government telling you what to do, you are also more likely to view the facts of a criminal case with skepticism and really analyze things before reaching a decision – that’s what we need in a criminal trial.
If you fall into the latter category and you wiggle your way out of jury duty, you might be leaving someone, whose life and family may depend on the outcome of their trial, with a non-critical jury who is ready to convict and send them to jail before they have even heard the evidence. Why would an honest cop and noble prosecutor put them on trial if they aren’t a horrible person?
We need people from both sides of the spectrum on every jury, who can analyze a case from different viewpoints, find the truth, and hold the government to their burden of proof of beyond any reasonable doubt. When you get out of jury duty, you might be abandoning an innocent person who desperately needs your help…
“Tricks” to Get Out of Jury Duty Might Land You in Jail
If you do want out of jury duty and you don’t have a good reason listed in the statutes above, be aware that the court may not be pleased. Often, when a judge thinks that someone is trying to get out of jury duty and not being straightforward about their reasons, the judge will excuse them from the jury but then force them to sit through the trial anyway…
In extreme cases, if the judge thinks you are lying to them, the court can hold you in contempt of court and put you in jail.
If you want out of jury duty, don’t be dishonest with the court. Don’t even try to get out of jury duty, unless you legitimately fall into one of the categories for disqualification or exemption listed above.
Who Stands Between the Government and Wrongful Convictions?
When a person has been wrongfully accused, it is up to the police officer to discover the truth and not charge them. When that doesn’t happen, the person goes to jail and their file lands on a prosecutor’s desk.
Then it’s up to the prosecutor to investigate, discover that they’ve got it wrong, and dismiss the case. What if they don’t? What if they can’t admit they were wrong, they don’t want the police to get sued, or there is media attention and political pressure to try a case and get a conviction? What if they just don’t care?
Then, it’s up to the judge to dismiss the case, right? Except, the court can usually only dismiss a case if there is a lack of probable cause – probable cause is an extremely low standard of proof that points to many innocent people as well as the guilty.
What now? It’s up to the defense attorney?
Obviously, we can’t dismiss a case. All we can do is present the case to a group of 12 ordinary, hopefully not biased-in-favor-of-law-enforcement jurors. You, then, are the only thing standing between the government, a wrongful conviction, and a prison sentence for a wrongfully accused person…
Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer in Charleston, SC
Charleston criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone represents clients charged with crimes in Charleston, North Charleston, Georgetown, Myrtle Beach, and Eastern SC, including criminal trials, criminal appeals in SC, and post-conviction relief cases.
Call now at (843) 808-2100 or email us to speak with a Charleston, SC defense lawyer today.