Last Fall I had the honor to serve on my first jury. As a lawyer I had always been excused due to my occupation. But, the days have apparently passed when lawyers are not acceptable as jurors. And I was picked for a criminal trial. It was a fascinating experience. I was impressed that all of my fellow jurors seemed to take their responsibility very seriously.
My age (70) also did not prevent me from my getting picked for the jury. The old maxim is that prosecutors are more likely to use their peremptory challenges to exclude younger members of the jury pool, while defense attorneys exclude older potential jurors. I’m glad that in my case the lawyers for the state and the defendant did not feel that my age gave them reason to challenge me.
I think older adults in general have a lot to contribute in the jury setting. Of course, it’s true that as we age we have more risk of disabling conditions that could inhibit our service. And physical limitations can make jury duty an undue hardship for some.
Pennsylvania law makes “undue hardship” a valid reason to be exempted from jury duty. But proving that you should be excused from duty for this reason can be difficult for some seniors and create an undue hardship all by itself. This is the reasoning behind a new Pennsylvania law that became effective in December. Act 54 of 2015, exempts from jury duty persons 75 years of age or older who wish to be excused and exempt from jury duty.
According to the law’s primary sponsor, Senator Stewart Greenleaf, at least twenty-one other states also provide older citizens with exemptions from jury duty if they meet an arbitrary age threshold. That threshold is typically set at age 65, 70 or 75. For example, in West Virginia the age is 65, in Maryland the age is 70, and in New Jersey the age is 75. Age alone is sufficient. Evidence of disability or infirmity that would interfere potentially with that person's ability to serve effectively or comfortably as a juror is NOT required.
From my recent experience, I recommend serving on a jury if you can. But for those readers who are interested in avoiding jury duty, here is a list of the statutory reasons for exemption in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s exemptions from jury duty
(a) General rule.--No person shall be exempt or excused from jury duty except the following:
(1) Persons in active service of the armed forces of the United States or of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
(2) Persons who have served within three years next preceding on any jury except a person who served as a juror for fewer than three days in any one year in which case the exemption period shall be one year.
(3) Persons demonstrating to the court undue hardship or extreme inconvenience may be excused permanently or for such period as the court determines is necessary, and if excused for a limited period shall, at the end of the period, be assigned to the next jury array.
(4) Spouses, children, siblings, parents, grandparents and grandchildren of victims of criminal homicide under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501 (relating to criminal homicide).
(5) Persons who have previously served for a term of 18 months on a Statewide investigating grand jury, including any extensions thereof, who opt not to serve.
(6) Persons 75 years of age or older who request to be excused.
(7) Judges and magisterial district judges of the Commonwealth and judges of the United States as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 451 (relating to definitions).
(8) Breastfeeding women who request to be excused.
To view Act 54, click here.