Courts accommodate student-jurors

State courts allow students to defer jury duty to coincide with scheduled breaks.

by Ian Larson

Jury duty: Civics textbooks say itâÄôs the cornerstone of the American judicial system. Some jurors see it differently. âÄúIt was a pain,âÄù former University of Minnesota student Katie Schneider said of her time spent rescheduling and missing work for jury duty. But court officials say that serving jury duty isnâÄôt as painful as the penalty for skipping once youâÄôve been summoned. In Hennepin County court, skipping jury duty could land you in jail. For the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, the local branch of the federal court system, the penalty could be a $1,000 fine, jail time and community service. To avoid this, the courts make accommodations for student-jurors by allowing them to request to serve during breaks or other times convenient for them. âÄúWe really donâÄôt want a student to lose credit for a class because theyâÄôre serving on jury duty,âÄù Ramsey County Jury Manager Terri Pederson said. âÄúBut weâÄôre willing to postpone nine months or as much as it takes to get them here.âÄù The District Court allows jurors to choose a time by using the new online jury duty service eJuror, U.S. District Court Jury Clerk Katie Huberty said. Jurors called to Hennepin and Ramsey counties can do the same by filling out a similar online jury questionnaire. Schneider, a communications and English double major, was studying in Italy when Hennepin County sent her a jury duty questionnaire. SchneiderâÄôs parents forwarded her the information and she postponed her jury duty. A trip to China made it impossible for Schneider to serve her rescheduled jury duty that May, but a county jury clerk helped her defer the service again âÄî an uncommon exception that spared her potentially damaging repercussions. Schneider said that leaving her home and job in St. Cloud to come to Minneapolis to serve on the jury that July was âÄúa pain,âÄù but juror compensation, gas mileage credits and the courtâÄôs flexibility in rescheduling made the experience easier, she said. âÄúI can understand how people would not believe that itâÄôs an easy system to work with, because they are pretty strict,âÄù Schneider said. âÄúBut I think being a student definitely helped [with rescheduling].âÄù Both state and district courts select jurors in two stages. First, names are drawn by counties from voter registration, driverâÄôs license and state I.D. pools. Hennepin County summons jurors âÄî more than 30,000 annually âÄî from this list as needed. The District Court mails questionnaires to all potential jurors selected from the original master list. A jury clerk removes unqualified candidates, and the remaining jurorsâÄô names are entered into a final list and may be summoned as needed by the court. Once they serve on a jury for a single case, jurors are released for that jury service term, but not all summoned jurors actually sit in on trials. Some jurors spend most of their jury duty in the jury assembly room. If there are more jurors than needed, the judge may dismiss them, in which case they may go âÄúon callâÄù and check in with the court as they continue their daily lives until their jury duty has ended âÄî a period of two months for U.S. District Court and two weeks for Hennepin County Court. Ramsey County jurors serve only one week, the shortest period in the state, Pederson said. Once jurors have completed their service in any Minnesota court, they may be exempted from serving again in Hennepin County for another four years and in the U.S. District Court for two years. Huberty said the court is willing to be flexible with student-jurorsâÄô schedules, but they need to know their options. âÄúThey canâÄôt just call me on the phone,âÄù Huberty said. âÄúOf course, some students donâÄôt read the paperwork well enough and call me the day before theyâÄôre supposed to come in, but I really havenâÄôt had an issue with them not showing up.âÄù âÄúItâÄôs much more rewarding for [jurors who sit in on a trial],âÄù Pederson said. âÄúThe people who never get called to a courtroom, I think itâÄôs kind of boring [for them].âÄù For Schneider, the fact that she actually served on the jury made the experience worthwhile. âÄúIf I had not done anything and just sat around for several days, then I probably wouldnâÄôt have been as happy to participate.âÄù