MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Last August the public was reminded that anyone can serve on a jury as television talk show host Oprah Winfrey performed her civic duty in a Chicago criminal court.
No occupations in the United States automatically exempt a person from jury duty, so millionaire television stars, athletes, lawyers, doctors, law enforcement officers, state officials and even armed forces service members can be called to serve.
"As Americans, we sometimes take for granted the rule of law that protects our freedoms," said Ronald M. George, Chief Justice of California, in a recent statement. "Trial by a jury of one's peers is among the fundamental democratic ideals of our nation. Serving as jurors reminds us that these ideals exist only as long as individual citizens are willing to uphold them."
Department of Defense Directive number 5525.8 states that it is DOD policy to permit members of the armed forces to fulfill their civic responsibilities consistent with their military duties, just like paying taxes.
For service members stationed in the United States, serving on a state or local jury is a civic obligation.
Service members are exempt from jury duty when it would interfere with performance of their military duties or unfavorably affect the readiness of a unit, command or activity.
The directive states that "secretaries of military departments," determine whether the service member is exempt from jury duty.
"When a service member on active duty receives a summons to state or local jury duty, the member should inform his or her immediate commander," said Lisa Pierce, secretary, Civil Information, San Bernardino County. "The commander determines whether the member should perform jury service. Not every military member is exempt from jury service."
If the civil service does interfere with the service member's military duties or affects readiness, the service member shall be exempted from jury duty.
All general and flag officers, commanders and commanding officers, officers-in-charge, and all personnel assigned to the operating forces, in a training status, or stationed outside the United States are exempt from serving on a state or local jury since their service would interfere with the performance of their military duties.
Written notice of each exemption determination shall be provided to the responsible state or local official who summoned an exempt member for jury duty.
Pierce also warns service members who receive a summons to speak with their commanders and not write an exemption notice themselves.
"If a person is qualified to stand jury duty, and they have not been excused, then they must report for jury service," said Pierce. "They may only have to call on the phone or check a Web site to find out if they should report for jury service. Any person who fails to respond may be fined up to $1,500. Jail time in addition to the fine is also possible."