Many of you may remember my post from July of 2015 titled Jury Duty For The Mentally Ill: Are You Fit To Serve?. In it, I asked an important question: does mental illness disqualify you from jury duty in the United States?
After receiving a summons for jury duty and calling in every Tuesday, I didn’t end up being called on. It still begs the question, however, of what mental illness would disqualify you from serving on a jury. I finally sat down and researched the topic a bit, and this is what I found.
(Disclaimer: Author is not a lawyer, and none of this information should be taken as professional legal advice. Please consult an actual lawyer or contact your county’s court system for further information.)
Aside from the obvious (having to be a US citizen, 18 years of age, etc.), one of the United States Courts’ qualifications for jury duty is that you “have no disqualifying mental or physical condition“. For example, if you are not found competent aka ‘smart enough’ to serve on a jury and make fair, unbiased decisions, you shouldn’t be serving on a jury. A physical condition that keeps you from leaving the house would also disqualify you.
Mental illness, on the other hand, doesn’t have to do so much with competence and understanding how the law works as it does simply dealing with the stresses of serving on a jury. True, there are some mental illnesses that cloud one’s judgement, whether that be through the mental illness itself or by medications and treatments, but each individual is different.
I did some research on what would be a disqualifying mental condition would be.
What Mental Conditions Disqualify You From Jury Duty?
To be honest, the internet is very vague when it comes to defining mental conditions that would disqualify you from jury duty. I did find out that a lot of federal and county courts have their own rules for juror qualifications and exemptions, and it’s up to you to call your county district court system to check on the specifics.
I called my own county district court and asked if there were any specific mental conditions that would disqualify me from jury duty, but no set guidelines were available. For me, it would simply be at my discretion to ask for an exemption if I felt I couldn’t serve on a jury due to mental illness.
I also submitted a question to Lawyers.com in hopes that it would be answered, but I have yet to receive a reply. They choose questions at random based on how interested other users are. Hopefully my question will be answered, but don’t hold your breath. I’m going to tell you here and now that I’m not going to pay to consult a lawyer just to find out the answer to this question.
On the other hand, I did find out some very interesting information about excusing yourself from jury duty. Read on!
Getting Out Of Jury Duty
Let’s say you have a mental illness, and you want to be excused from jury duty. You feel uncomfortable being put in a courtroom with strangers and possibly having a life or death situation being put into your collective hands.
If you shudder at the thought of jury duty, it’s okay to ask for an exemption. In fact, it’s ludicrously simple to get out of jury duty. According to Business Insider contributor Gus Lubin, getting out of jury duty is a piece of cake.
“If we had any sort of bias, he said, we should tell them now so we could be excused. If we were biased against a plaintiff who was a former drug addict, we should tell them so we could be excused… Also if we weren’t available on February 26, then we should excuse ourselves.”
Lubin’s experience isn’t indicative of what everyone’s will be, but it does go to show how seriously attorneys consider potential jurors. They want jurors to be as unbiased and focused as possible, so if you feel that you won’t be able to give the case the full attention it needs, most courts will be willing to excuse you from jury duty.
What If I Want To Be A Juror?
Who says you can’t? Whether you ask for an exemption or indicate that you want to serve, neither choice is public record. Listing a mental illness on your juror form isn’t required by law; that’s private information… your information. The only thing you need to do is check yes or no.
Should you be asked to explain your specific case to the county court, no record will be made of what mental illness you have or how bad it is. You will most likely need to provide a doctor’s note verifying your diagnosis/diagnoses if you want to be excused. This doesn’t go one record either.
If you feel you can give a trial fair consideration despite your mental illness, go ahead and do it! Serving jury duty is your right as a US citizen, and as long as you can remain unbiased, fair and focused on the case, you can most certainly be a juror. Nobody’s going to be doing a background check on whether or not you have a mental illness.
Have you ever served on a jury while having a mental illness? What was your experience? Leave a comment below!