Q. I just received a questionnaire from our U.S. District Court to determine if I am eligible to serve as a juror. Since I am quadriplegic and use a power wheelchair, I’ve always assumed that I would never have the opportunity to serve on a jury. I wouldn’t mind fulfilling my civic responsibility, but am unfamiliar with what would be involved, so I need some advice on how to approach this situation.
Is it feasible for me to serve as a juror, or would I automatically be excluded because of my condition? What type of activities might take place, and for how long? Should I be concerned about accessibility? If I am not automatically excused, how does the process work?
If I need attendant care, would the court provide that help while I am participating? Are transportation costs reimbursed? Since I am currently unemployed, would I receive any payment for serving as a juror? Thanks for any answers you can provide.
— Just Trying to be a Good Citizen
A. Doing your civic duty is often “easier said than done” when it comes to federal courts, which are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (state and local courts are covered and must provide “reasonable accommodation”). As someone who uses a power mobility device, you will likely run into a few challenges in your attempt to participate in the judicial process. You may be able to learn about conditions in advance of actually being required to report for jury duty through a simple call to the court clerk where you have been summoned. Basic questions seeking assurances about accessibility of parking for jurors, courthouse common areas, restrooms and the trial courtrooms may result in you being excused before you actually report, if the court clerk knows that accessibility problems exist. If you do not wish to be excused, you may request accommodations, but again, federal courts are not required by law to provide any accommodation and may refuse.
Reimbursement is normally available for such items as transportation and parking expenses. If you require someone to drive you who must be paid, be sure to bring that up prior to reporting so that you can determine if you will receive full reimbursement for these costs. Should there be other costs involved with your participation, such as payment for personal assistance services needed when you are away from home for that long during the day, you should ask the court clerk about that in advance as well. While those costs may not be paid, the situation may be factored into the decision about whether or not you should be excused from jury duty due to a hardship.
Jurors normally receive a flat payment of $40 per day in federal courts, but payment may vary when it comes to state or local courts. If the trial exceeds a certain number of days — 10 days for trial jurors and 45 days for those serving on grand juries — daily stipends increase to $50. For those jurors who are employed, some employers continue paying salaries during jury duty, but it is not required. If the jury is sequestered, jurors would also receive reimbursement for the cost of lodging and a meal allowance.
Visiting the courthouse and requesting a tour of a typical courtroom may answer some of your concerns about the ability to participate fully in the process. If you drive a wheelchair van, is there van accessible parking available in the section reserved for jurors? If that parking is located in a garage, is the overhead clearance sufficient for your vehicle? Are you able to take care of your personal needs in the public restroom, or is there a separate restroom available to jurors that may be more accessible? If selected for a jury, are you able to be seated with the rest of the jurors within the jury box, or would you be required to remain parked outside of it during the trial?
If all of the above checks out OK and you are actually called for jury duty, you will most likely be given a phone number to call each day of your term to see if your services are required. If you must report in person and wait with other potential jurors, make sure that your disability-related needs, such as hydration and seating pressure relief, can be met while seated in a large waiting area for many hours.
Your willingness to participate as a juror is important to assure that everyone, including people with disabilities, can expect a jury of their peers when they enter the judicial system. Good luck as you attempt to complete your civic duties.
• Jury Duty: www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/JuryService/about-jury-service.aspx
• Protection and Advocacy agency network: ndrn.org/en/about/paacap-network.html