How To Get Out of Jury Duty

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The Easy Way: Be Famous
Hey, we didn't say anything about this being the easily accessible way. But, if you are blessed with the sort of fame that leads media types to follow your every move, then chances are, you won't ever get chosen for jury duty. Why? Frankly, your presence would be distracting in the courtroom. In 2003, for instance, Bill Clinton was called in as Prospective Juror No. 142 on a New York City murder trial, but was eliminated only a couple of days into the jury selection process. The judge on the trial felt that President Clinton (and the Secret Service agents who follow him at all times) would sensationalize the atmosphere in the courtroom.

The Illegal Way: Lie
Whether you say you're "prejudiced against all the races," as per Homer Simpson, or simply claim that your Grandma died, lying is a time-honored way to both get out of jury duty AND get thrown in jail for contempt of court. Just ask Benjamin Ratliffe, an anti-death penalty activist from Columbus, Ohio. In June 2006, Ratliffe was called in for jury selection on a capital murder trial. Unwilling to risk being on a jury that might want to hand down a death sentence, Ratliffe decided to take matters into his own hands. When he was given a form to fill out, he intentionally flubbed a couple key questions. At one point in the questionnaire, Ratliffe claimed he was "bad jonesin' for heroin." When asked if he'd ever fired a weapon, he responded, "Yes. I killed someone with it, of course." The result was a sort of be-careful-what-you-wish-for moral lesson. Ratliffe did get out of jury duty, but he also spent 24 hours in jail for obstruction of justice before he finally agreed to apologize to the judge.

The Smart Way: Know a Bit of Legal Trivia

Next time you're in the jury selection process and really want out, just inform the court that you know all about jury nullification"¦and you aren't afraid to use it. A little-known facet of common law dating back to Elizabethan England, jury nullification happens when a jury hands down a "not guilty" verdict—but not because they think the defendant is innocent. Instead, they're making a statement about the validity of the law itself. The first jury nullification happened in 1670, when William Penn (of Pennsylvania fame) and William Mead (of no fame) were charged with unlawful assembly—a crime basically created to prevent unsanctioned religious groups from getting together to worship. Clearly, both men were guilty, but the jury refused to convict them on the grounds that the law was unjust. The practice continued in America. Throughout the mid-1800s, northern juries would frequently nullify prosecutions against people who violated the Fugitive Slave Laws. And, during Prohibition, juries around the country nullified numerous alcohol control violations. Prior to the 20th century, nullification was accepted as common practice, but around the late 1800s, judges started taking a harsher view of it. In 1895, the Supreme Court even handed down a ruling saying that judges don't have to inform juries of their right to nullify. Today, most judges take advantage of this. Many will even tell you that you legally can't nullify a law. There's some debate over whether that's true or not. (At any rate, jurors can't be punished for the verdict they return and not-guilty defendants can't be retried—so we figure, what the heck.) Either way, most judges don't want to deal with a juror who might pull the nullification card, so if you bring it up, you'll likely be eliminated from the jury pool.

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December 5, 2006 - 7:17am
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