Legal ways to avoid Jury Duty

Bexar County Jury Duty

The Jury Summons was direct and definitive:

You are hereby notified to appear [in the Bexar County Central Jury Room] at 8:00 AM WED, AUG 13, 2014  [to] then and there be qualified to serve as a petit juror in the several district and county courts of Bexar County.  You are cautioned under penalty of law to answer this summons in person at the above time and place.

I am not going to lie to you–I was not thrilled about going to jury duty.  But it is our civic duty as they say, so I put the date on my Google Calendar and didn’t give it another thought . . .  until today.

Jury Summons
Jury Summons

I was released at 2:33 PM.  Yes–that is the exact time the Judge released our panel from jury duty.  I bolted out of the courtroom so fast–I think the Judge was still in mid-sentence.  I felt bad–but not bad enough to return and hear the rest of the speech.  I guess I was “that guy” today.  But I was o.k. with it–I was ready to go home.

In retrospect–my experience wasn’t that bad.  The Bexar County employees went out of their way to make the process as painless as possible.  The chairs were comfortable and we had free Wi-Fi.

There was also an unexpected benefit to jury duty today that is neither here or there.  During lunch–I met a retired military nurse who was also on jury duty.  She offered me a chair at her table–and a great conversation.  She told me about her life as a nurse, her family, and her activities during retirement.  We talked politics too–but without all the rancor on television.  It’s hard to explain what I mean by great conversation.  But that’s the second time this has happened to me this year.  I met a man on a cruise who was vacationing with his family in March.  He told me about his life as an investment banker, husband, and father.   There was a genuineness to both conversations that was both refreshing and rewarding.  Anyway, I hoped that I held up my end of the conversation and made them feel the same way.

So why blog about this?  Because many people ask me the following questions:  (1) what are the qualifications to be on a jury; (2) how do I get out of jury duty; and (3) what happens if I don’t go?  So here goes . . .

Jury Service Qualifications:

To be a juror, you must

  1. Be at least 18 years old;
  2. Be a citizen of Texas and resident of Bexar County;
  3. be qualified under the Constitution and laws to vote in Bexar County (but you don’t have to be a registered voter);
  4. be of sound mind and good moral character;
  5. be able to read and write;
  6. not have served as a juror for six days during the preceding three months in the county court or during the preceding six months in the district court;
  7. not have been convicted of misdemeanor theft or a felony; and
  8. no be under indictment or other legal accusation for misdemeanor theft or felony.

See Tex. Gov.’t Code Section 62.102.

Exemptions from Jury Service

The Government Code (Section 62.106) allows prospective jurors who qualify to serve on a jury to opt out of jury service under certain circumstances.  That is, a Juror may be excused from Jury Service if:

  1. you are over 70 years of age;
  2. you have legal custody of one or more children younger than 12 years of age and your service on the jury would require leaving the child or children without adequate supervision;
  3. you are a student at a public or private high school;
  4. you are a student enrolled and in actual attendance at an institution of higher education;
  5. you are an officer or employee of the senate, the house of representatives, or any department, commission, board, office, or other agency in the legislative branch of state government;
  6. you are the primary caretaker of an invalid;
  7. you have served as a juror in the district courts or county courts of Bexar County within the last 36 months; or
  8. you are a member of the United States military forces serving on active duty and deployed to a location away from the person’s home station and out of the person’s county of residence.

Note–these are the requirements for Bexar County, Texas.  If you live in a county with a population of under 200,000–then you should read Section 62.106 carefully.

What Happens if I don’t Go?

Failure to Answer Jury Summons:

A person who fails to comply with a Jury Summons is subject to a contempt action punishable by a fine of not less than $100.00 nor more than $1,000.00.  Tex. Gov’t Code Section 62.0141.

Additionally, a person shall be fined not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00 if the person:  (1) fails to attend court in obedience to the notice without reasonable excuse; or (2) files a false claim of exemption from jury service.  See Tex. Gov’t Code Section 62.111.

Conclusion

Jury service can be a drag.  But it’s also an invaluable tool that protects all people charged with a crime against government abuse by forcing the State to prove its case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  Many times as the jury is waiting outside–the State either dismisses the charges outright against an accused or seriously reduces them to avoid taking their lumps from a jury.


Genaro R. Cortez
Attorney
Phone:  210.733.7575

Interrogations and Confessions

Miranda Rights + Interrogations = Confessions

We’ve all heard police read a suspect his or her Miranda Rights on television shows and movies.  We practically know the following warnings by heart:  “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?

Interrogation and ConfessionsKnowing these rights–then why do so many people confess to committing crimes after they are arrested?  It’s one of the questions that puzzled me when I first started practicing law.  I mean if police are questioning you about a crime–why wouldn’t you ask for an attorney before answering questions.  The answer, I later learned, is simple:  police use sophisticated and structured-interrogation techniques to extract confessions from suspects.  For a complete discussion on this issue, see Fred. E. Inbau Et. AL., CRIMINAL INTERROGATIONS AND CONFESSIONS (4th ed. 2001).

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about interrogations based on Inbau’s manual.

1.  What’s the difference between an interview and an interrogation?

  • An interview is nonaccusatory and used by police to gather information.  It’s usually conducted early in the case and under a variety of enviorments.
  • An interrogation is accusatory.  The interrogator tells the suspect that there is no doubt that the suspect committed the offense.  The purpose of this statement is to persuade the suspect to tell the truth.  Interrogations often, but not always, occur after an interview.
  • Note:  detectives do not use the word “interrogate” when they testify in court.  Instead they describe the interrogation as a “conversation.”

2.  How do police use an interrogation room to extract a confession?

  • They use privacy between the suspect and the interrogator in the interview room to create an atmosphere that makes it easier to confess.  It’s similar to talking to a friend about a personal matter–you usually do it one-on-one instead of at a party or other social situation where there are many people who can over hear the personal conversation.
  • Police minimize the consequences of a suspect telling the truth.  As Inbau wrote, “during an interview or especially an interrogation, it is psychologically improper to mention any consequences whatsoever of the possible negative effects a suspect may experience if he decides to tell the truth.”  Id. at 57.  In plain English–police do not tell a suspect that if he confesses to murder that he will be facing up to life imprisonment if he is convicted of the offense.
  • Police also eliminate visual reminders about the possible consequences of a confession–Detectives are usually dressed in plain clothes and do not carry weapons, badges, or handcuffs.  There are no certificates on the wall indicating that the interrogator successfully completed and advanced degree or certification in interrogation procedures and methods.

3.  Can police lie to suspects during an interview or interrogation?

  • Yes.  Inbau states that, ‘[t]o persuade a guilty suspect to offer an admission against self-interest [i.e., confess], the investigator may have to falsely exaggerate his confidence in the suspect’s guilt, sympathize with the suspect’s situation, and display feelings toward the suspect or his crime that are far from genuine.”  Id. at 427.
  • We have seen examples of this type of trickery on many television shows such as NCIS.  For instance, police walk into an interrogation room with a “case file.”  During the interrogation, the interrogator motions to the case file and indicates to the suspect that the case against the suspect is “air tight.”  Once the interrogation is over, we learn that the file is nothing but scrap paper.  This is proper with one key exception.  Police cannot create fake lab reports in Texas state courts to deceive a suspect.  See Wilson v. State, 311 S.W.3d 452, 461-63 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (prohibiting police from manufacturing lab reports for use during interrogations).

Conclusion

So what do I do if police want me to come down to the police station for an interview?  You should always consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney before being interviewed or interrogated by law enforcement.

Genaro R. Cortez
Attorney
Phone:  210.733.7575