If you’ve never served jury duty before, the thought of doing so may seem daunting; especially for those with social anxiety or panic disorder. For many people, getting that jury duty selection letter in the mail can be a huge source of anxiety. You may be wondering; can you be excused from jury duty for anxiety?
You may be excused from jury duty for anxiety, or for any condition that may affect your ability to serve reliably as a juror. Receiving a doctor’s note confirming your anxiety is likely the easiest way. You could also discuss your concerns with the judge privately during the juror selection process.
While getting excused from jury duty for anxiety is possible, just how easy is it to do? Are there better ways to go about this? Is it actually in your best interest to get out of jury duty?
Keep reading, and we’ll address all of these questions and more!
How Can You Be Excused from Jury Duty for Anxiety?
Getting Out of Jury Duty with a Doctor’s Note
As with most situations, a doctor’s note can go a long way to help you out here. Speak to your doctor about the severity of your anxiety disorder. If it cannot be immediately treated, you may request a doctor’s note. Most doctors should have no problem helping you out here if you’re being honest to them about your condition.
In most cases, a doctor’s note excusing you from jury duty due to an anxiety disorder should be sufficient to get you off the hook. If you’re chosen for the jury pool, you can mail or fax your doctor’s note to the relevant office in your district. You’ll want to specify whether your condition is temporary or permanent (meaning you’ll never be able to serve for jury duty). This is likely the safest and easiest way to be excused for jury duty due to anxiety.
What Happens if You Skip Jury Duty?
If you’re summoned for jury duty and do not show up for it, you may be subjecting yourself to legal recourse. The penalty for skipping jury duty varies from state to state, but in most states, it’s usually just a small fine.
For obvious reasons, it probably makes sense for you to just get a doctor’s note if your anxiety is that bad. If you don’t, though, you’ll probably still be fine. Something like half of all people are expected to ignore their jury duty summons. Usually it just isn’t worth the resources required to serve you a bench warrant, especially if you live in a large city. For many people, probably nothing will come of ignoring their initial jury duty questionnaire.
People try and get out of jury duty all the time. It can feel like an inconvenience in the busy lives of many, so they’ll say what they can to get out of it. Because of this, courts will go to significant lengths to make necessary accommodations to make sure their jurors actualls show up.
If someone is diabetic, for example, lunch and snack breaks may be allowed. If someone has an issue with frequent urination, more frequent bathroom recesses may be permitted. Likewise, if someone has social anxiety or panic disorder, it’s likely that the court will try and accommodate such issues. If there is something that can be done to make you more comfortable, and able to perform jury duty, you should bring it to the attention of the judge; they will most likely respect your honesty and assist you.
You’ll Have the Ability to Speak Privately with the Judge
When you’re randomly selected as part of the jury pool, you’ll have the opportunity to ask and answer questions of the attorneys and the judge. Their goal here is not to intimidate you or put you on the spot, so part of this will likely be done privately. If you have difficulty answering questions in public, you can make this known and they may ask you each question privately.
Once you’re speaking privately with the judge, you can make any of your concerns about anxiety known to them. The whole point of selecting jurors from the potential juror pool is to choose those who will be unbiased and effective in court. If the concern remains that you might have a panic attack in court, or severe social anxiety as a juror, it’s likely that you will be dismissed. If your anxiety leads you to be unable to focus or communicate during a trial, it could lead to a mistrial; something nobody wants.
Take the opportunity to discuss your concerns with the judge. If they’re valid, and the judge can see you’re not just trying to lie your way out of serving jury duty, you will likely not be chosen to move forward.
Other Reasons to Be Excused from Jury Duty
Who is Exempt from Jury Duty?
Laws and regulations surrounding jury duty will vary from state to state.
To be federally qualified for jury duty, a person must:
- Be a United States citizen
- Be at least 18 years or older
- Reside in the judicial district primarily for one year
- Be proficient in English
- Have no mental or physical condition that disqualifies them
- Not currently being charged with a felony punishable by 1+ year in prison
- Never have been convicted of a felony (unless civil rights are legally restored)
If a person does not meet all of the above qualifications, they will not qualify for jury duty.
In addition to this, there are three groups that are exempt from federal jury service:
- Active duty armed forces
- Professional fire department and police department members
- Anyone who holds public office (federal, state, or local) full-time
These are the conditions that will legally exempt you from jury duty just about anywhere in the United States. But what about people who are not exempt, but still are not chosen to move forward in the process and serve jury duty?
Reasons You Wouldn’t Be Picked for Jury Duty
While choosing jurors from the juror pool, attorneys will ask questions in something called a voir dire. The purpose of a voir dire is to determine who is unfit to serve as a juror in a specific case due to their own biased personal opinions and experiences. Pretty much any personal biases or special circumstances that could make it difficult for you to be impartial will get you out of jury duty.
An example of this would be if your father was killed by a drunk driver when you were a kid, and now you are being considered to serve as a juror in a case against a drunk driver. Obviously, it would be difficult for you to be impartial in such a case due to personal feelings, and so an attorney would immediately make sure that you were not selected as a juror.
If one were really trying to make sure they were not selected from the juror pool, they could use the voir dire as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are unfit to serve. Suggesting that you are extremely politically biased, overly stubborn, have strong feelings (positive or negative) about police officers, or are against the death penalty (in relevant trials), are all factors that can keep you from being selected for jury duty.
Should You Avoid Jury Duty?
Now that you know how to be excused from jury duty (relatively easily), you need to ask yourself… Should you avoid jury duty?
There is certainly an argument to be had regarding one’s civil responsibility. Not to mention, there are the educational benefits of experiencing a trial and better understanding your country’s judicial system. But those would be opinion topics not directly relevant to the content matter of this website.
Instead, I’d like to focus on how avoiding jury duty might affect your social anxiety or panic disorder.
Avoidance is something I advise against whenever possible on this website.
Avoidant behavior is the most surefire way to make your anxiety worse over time, rather than slowly chipping away and beating it.
Even if you’re a bit anxious about jury duty, I still want to encourage you to give it your best shot. If your anxiety gets bad enough that you have to excuse yourself from the trial, so be it.
Remember, this is a form of exposure therapy; by confronting your fears, you slowly take power back from them. With repeated exposure, these kinds of events will seem less and less intimidating over time. If you avoid your fears altogether, your comfort zone will shrink, and more and more things will trigger your anxiety over time.
Be sure to check out this article to learn more about how to conquer your fears through exposure therapy.
How to Stop Anxiety During Jury Duty
Let's say you decide to face your fears and attend jury duty (bravo!).
What happens if you start to have a panic attack during jury duty or feel so anxious you just want to escape?
Well, if you've read this far, hopefully probably won't mind doing a bit more reading! To quickly stop anxiety in the courtroom (or anywhere else!) consider checking out my book, Don't Panic, Do This! 100+ Ways to Stop Panic Attacks and Anxiety.
Good luck, and let us know how it goes!