As lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina, we represent our clients in civil and criminal jury trials. Serving on a jury in South Carolina is an important role in our judicial system. In this article, we examine exemptions for jury duty, disqualifications from jury duty, voir dire of potential jurors, and other things you need to know about serving as a juror in South Carolina.
Getting Out of Jury Duty in South Carolina
Most of the time, parties in civil cases and defendants in criminal cases are guaranteed a right to a trial by a jury of their peers. Despite many people seeing jury duty as a chance to fulfill their civic duties or to simply watch an interesting trial, it can be an inconvenience. No doubt that most of us lead busy lives through either employment, or caring for others.
This leads to the question our lawyers often get from people – “is there a way to get out of jury duty?”
For purposes of this article, we assume you have received a Summons to serve as a juror in South Carolina circuit court. The municipal and magistrate rules are very similar, but not 100% the same. The federal court process is very different. We will try to answer whether you can get out, as well as a few other common questions.
If you feel that you can’t or shouldn’t be serving on a jury for whatever court term you are called for, we first recommend you review the exemptions and disqualifications below that were created by our legislature, and see if you qualify to be excused from jury duty. A disqualification is a condition where you can’t serve on a jury, whether you like it or not. An exemption is a condition where you otherwise can serve on a jury, but you might entitled to be excused at this particular time. Even if you don’t fit an exemption or disqualification, you might have a reason to be excused or transferred if the judge thinks there is “good cause.”
Common Exemptions to Jury Duty in South Carolina
- You are 65 years of age or older (even if you qualify for this exemption, many judges and lawyers still encourage you to lend your years of experience to the judicial system and not exercise your exemption)
- You are the primary caretaker of a person 65 years of age or older who can’t care for his or herself, or a person who is severely disabled who can’t care for his or herself
- You have legal custody and the duty to care for one or more kids under the age of 7 and can’t provide adequate child care while serving on the jury
- You are a guard, employee, or other officer at a state penitentiary
- You have served on a circuit court jury within the past 3 years or on the state grand jury within the past 4 years (you could still be required to serve on a municipal, magistrate, or federal jury)
- You are a student or school employee (in this case, you won’t be excused; instead, the court will transfer you to a jury term that does not conflict with your school term. So, think about what is more important to you – missing school or having a jury term potentially conflict with your summer plans)
Common Disqualifications for Jury Duty in South Carolina
- You are not a U.S. citizen
- You are not a resident of the county (be prepared to produce your updated driver’s license or have some other documentation to prove it, such as a power bill)
- You can’t read, write, or speak the English language
- You have a mental or physical condition that prevents you from being a juror (better have note from your doctor backing this up). Legal blindness doesn’t count
- You have less than a 6th grade education or its equivalent
- You have been convicted in state or federal court for a crime that carries one year or more in jail, and you have not been pardoned or given amnesty for that offense (it doesn’t matter what you actually received as a sentence, it only matters what you could have gotten if you got the max)
- You are a commissioned law enforcement officer, police officer, or sheriff’s deputy
- You are employed within the walls of a courthouse, such as a clerk of court, deputy clerk, or judge
- You are a county commissioner or county officer
- You have served on a circuit court jury within the past year
Other Reasons for Not Serving on Jury in South Carolina
Sometimes, even if you don’t meet an exemption or disqualification, you can request a judge let you out. Just know that the judge will usually not excuse you, but instead will transfer you to a different term based upon your reason. So, before asking for a transfer, consider whether any time in the future will be any more convenient than right now. In other words, it might be better to go ahead and get it out of the way.
One reason we often see people give is that they are self-employed. We usually only see this work if your business is the type that it will shut down completely if you are not there. Another reason we see is that you have already purchased a plane ticket for a wedding, vacation, or other event. Obviously, other reasons may apply depending on what you have going on. We suggest you bring documentation to support your reason, such as a print-out of your plane itinerary. There could be other reasons that might justify a transfer, but each circumstance is different. For example, a minor medical procedure may get you excused for one particular day, but studying for the bar exam is more likely to get you transferred to a different week altogether. Give your reason, but it’s up to the judge.
Here’s some reasons that don’t work:
- You’re a notary public
- You’re behind on your taxes or child support
- You’ve been convicted of a municipal court charge like DUI or simple possession of marijuana
- You have pending felony charges but have not been convicted (although your chance of getting struck in a criminal case during voir dire, which we describe below, goes up)
Voir Dire in South Carolina
If you are not excused, you may end up in a group subject to further questioning specific to the case. This is called “voir dire,” which means “to speak the truth.” Here, unlike many other states where the jurors are each directly interviewed, the lawyers submit questions that either they or the judge will ask of the entire juror panel. They are often yes/no questions, such as “have you ever been in a car wreck” if it is a car wreck case. If you answer “yes,” you might be asked to give more detail.
Even though a panel of 12 jurors will make the verdict, usually 13 or 14 are picked so there are alternates in case a juror gets removed in the middle of a trial. If you are not one of the 12, 13, or 14, you could be excused for the rest of the day, or for the remainder of the term, depending on what the court has going on. Most courts start with a panel of at least 75 people!
We can’t stress enough the importance of telling the truth during voir dire. First, you could subject yourself to perjury or contempt if you are caught lying. Second, you taint the process because the jury panel may not be a true cross section of the community. Finally, if you could create problems with what would have otherwise been a clean and fair trial, and you could create years of appeals and attorney’s fees for the parties. Ever seen the commercial that tried to be funny by showing a person show up for jury duty dressed as an executioner? Please don’t try that.
If you know any of the lawyers, parties, or witnesses in the case, it is important that you notify the judge of this so the lawyers and judge can decide whether you are fit to serve on the case.
What to Do If You Need to be Excused from Jury Duty
You CAN’T simply SKIP the day your notice says to report. So, first call the clerk of court, explain your situation, and find out if that court has a procedure for getting excused early. If you aren’t excused early, you need to show up and explain your situation to the judge. In Charleston, for example, it is possible to get excused ahead of time but you’ll have to fill out and submit some paperwork. If you aren’t excused early, plan on being at the courthouse until at least 11:00 a.m. that Monday morning, even if you are ultimately excused for the week.
Compensation for Jury Duty
Each county has different rules on what they are required to pay, but in no event should you expect to make over $25 per day.
Getting Fired by Your Employer for Missing Work for Jury Duty
Your employer can’t fire you for attending jury duty. If your boss does fire you, you might have a case against your employer for wrongful termination.
How the South Carolina Courts Select Names for Jury Duty
Courts generally draw their jurors from DMV records (driver’s license or identification card) and voter registration records. So, any time you move, it is important to keep your information up to date with both the DMV and the State Election Commission. In addition to missing jury duty, it can also be a crime if you don’t update your info. Most courts use computer programs that randomly generate the jury pool from these lists.
What to Bring to Jury Duty
Bring a magazine, crossword puzzle, newspaper, or other non-electronic items that help pass the time. Many courts will not let you keep your phone or tablet on you if you are selected. These devices have proven to be distractions to jurors who should be giving their full attention to the court and the trial. Also, you are only allowed to base your decision off the evidence in the case, and you should NEVER perform internet or outside research about your particular case. The case should be decided by you based on the evidence, not by the media. Depending on what courthouse, check the weather to see if you need to bring an umbrella. In Charleston, for example, the free parking for the jurors is about 3 blocks away.
Most people will only serve on a jury once or twice in their entire lives. We strongly encourage you to not dwell on any inconvenience this may cause you. Instead, go in with an open mind. Many people we talk to who have served on juries have found it to be very interesting! They enjoyed both their role of hearing the evidence and putting thought into a decision, as well as seeing and learning how the process works and how different it is from television. You’ll likely have a good story or two to tell when it’s over.