Jury Duty: Deferral versus Excused

Ever since I started posting about jury duty, I’ve been getting lots of questions about deferrals, getting outright excused, and the difference between those terms. So, for Pennsylvania, and Allegheny County specifically, here is what we know.

Jurors will receive a summons in the mail. The summons will include a questionnaire that needs to be mailed in and also has a phone number to call with more information. Allegheny County actually has a really great website for juror information. It covers everything from childcare to parking.

So, the most common question I’ve been fielding is similar to this: “I just had a baby, I’m still recovering from birth not to mention breastfeeding constantly. I can’t serve on a jury! Are you crazy? I haven’t slept since I went into labor. What do I do??”

In Pennsylvania, you have to decide whether you will chance it that you’ll not have to go in, seek a deferral, or try to get excused from service. What is the difference?

Deferral means you are putting your jury service on hold for a few months. Instead of serving in, say, March, you’ll go in for jury duty in, say, May.

Here is what the Allegheny County website says about a deferral: “A first request … may be granted for many reasons including, but not limited to, adult care, work issues, vacation, or a pursuit of educational opportunities; however, only the summoned juror may request a postponement. Requests made by employers or other individuals will not be acknowledged.”

Deferral is so common, you can even do it online. You can even defer more than once, it seems, though subsequent requests must be made via postal mail instead of online. But most nursing moms won’t be in an improved situation in two months.

That’s when you want to attempt to be excused from service. When a juror is excused from service, her name goes out of the lottery system for 12 months, at which point she may or may not be drawn again, just like every other citizen of the county.

Seeking an excuse from service is a bit trickier than a deferral in Pennsylvania, but from what I’ve heard, not insurmountable. I can’t speak from first-hand experience because I wanted very much to serve on the jury.

Another nursing mom, Lauren, was summoned recently. As she’s home with an infant, a deferral won’t do her much good. Here’s what she learned: “I called and they send to send in my questionnaire with a letter requesting 1 year postponement due to breastfeeding.”

Remember that all citizens are technically eligible for jury selection every 12 months. Rather than have to defer again and again every 2 months, Lauren can send in a letter to be excused from service for one year. Will Lauren’s name come up again next March? It’s just the luck (or not) of the draw.

Bottom line: if you are concerned about serving jury duty due to breastfeeding or stay-at-home-parenting, call the number on the back of your juror summons to learn about policies in your county. In Allegheny County, it seems like the courts do a pretty awesome job supporting nursing families.

Has anyone else had experience with a deferral versus getting excused from service? Leave us a comment to share your experience.

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