ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Skipping out on jury duty? If you live in St. Johns County, you'll be seeing a judge to explain why.
By law, you can be fined or even face jail time if you refuse to show up when summoned, but people are rarely ever penalized.
St. Johns County Circuit Judge Howard Maltz told News4Jax that it's been an ongoing issue in the county for years. Out of 300 summons a month, only about 38 percent show up for jury selection. While some people are excused from jury duty after reporting things such as medical issues, child care and vacation scheduling conflicts, about 15 percent are no-shows.
Low turnout can cause problems if the court runs out of jurors on a day trials are scheduled.
That's why Maltz has stepped in, attempting to increase attendance. He sent out orders to about 60 people who never showed for jury duty and met with them. Maltz said that while some said they misplaced their summons or were ill, others had a less compelling argument.
"The most absurd excuse I've heard -- we've had folks that have come down here and say their dog had an appointment with the groomer, they couldn't serve," he said. "I've had a young lady say she worked at a hair salon and the stylist she worked for wouldn't allow anyone else to wash a customer's hair except her."
Maltz said those people are not off the hook and will be reset for jury selection in another trial. The judge reminded people who are randomly selected that jury duty is required by law and is also a great learning experience. He said most of his trials only last a couple of days.
"Our Constitution guarantees the right of folks to have their criminal matters, civil matters resolved by their fellow citizens," Maltz said. "Those constitutional rights can't be guaranteed unless folks honor their jury summons and come down here and fulfill their civic duty."
Maltz said he will continue a quarterly meeting, ordering an explanation face-to-face from potential jurors who ignore their civic duty.
Why did I get picked for jury duty?
In Florida, jurors are electronically chosen at random through the state Division of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles system. Those 18 and older with a driver's license or state-issued identification card are in the pool for jury duty.
For a number of reasons, you can ask to be excused from jury duty by contacting the court by which you were summoned. If not, you will move on to selection process.
Expectant mothers, people 70 years old or older and full-time law enforcement officers are among those who can opt to be excused.
If you are summoned for jury duty and serve, you are not obligated to serve again within a year. You can still be randomly chosen again, but you will have to let the court know you’ve served within the past year.
Click here for county-by-county information on jury selection.