(Don’t) do your civic duty: how to handle jury duty as a college student
When senior Liz Renner received a letter requesting she serve jury duty last spring, she immediately looked at the calendar and weighed how selection for trial would impact her schedule.
“I talked with a couple of professors to see if that was even a possibility, but I was taking a couple of lab classes at the time and it was right over finals,” Renner said.
Renner’s hometown is in Minnehaha County, the largest county in Sioux Falls. Among her summons was an exception form.
“I explained that I was a student and that for the first part of May through finals, I would have to be on campus,” she said. “They were really understanding.”
There is no automatic exemption from jury duty, and, to further complicate matters, the process varies depending on state and county.
In Minnehaha County, potential jurors must be available over a 30-day period. But in Lincoln County on the south side of Sioux Falls, jurors could considered for trial for three months. If someone does receive a summons, they may be disqualified through the voir dire selection process.
Because each county handles things differently, Dean of Students Jim Bies answers calls each year from parents or students seeking advice. He said the best thing to do is to respond and explore whether or not an exception is possible.
“So depending on need, demand or jurors, the Clerk of Court is always going to make decisions on a case by case basis,” Bies said. “And more often than not, if it’s a college student that is called to jury duty, you need to appear when they tell you to appear and then they can better ascertain if it’s reasonable, without unintended consequences, that the student serves.”
Trying to connect the dots between Minnehaha and Lincoln County, Bies is working with a graduate student from Sioux Falls to create online guidelines that will help students navigate the process.
Sophomore Cheyenne Chontos thinks this resource will help students feel prepared about the possibility of serving.
When she was put on a list of potential jurors in January, “I felt like I was really on my own in figuring out how I would balance being on jury duty and going to school,” she said.
Each time her number was drawn, the trial was canceled, Chontos said.
“I never thought I’d be called for jury duty while in college, so it was definitely not something I was prepared for.”
In Bies’ time at Augustana he hasn’t heard of a student serving on a jury. But having served as the foreman on a jury himself, he knows how long a trial could go on and how it could affect a student’s academic performance.
“But Clerks of Court are for the most part very sensitive to that and at minimum our students are obligated to at least appear,” Bies said.