In the United States, can someone be legitimately be summoned for jury duty when a doctor provided a letter with medical reasons to the contrary?

  • 3
    What reasons were provided? There are several possible reasons for the court discounting the doctor's letter; there might be a difference of opinion about whether the given reason justifies not requiring the juror to appear personally; the court might not trust the doctor; etc., etc.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 3 at 11:22

3 Answers 3


This will be highly dependent on the particular state, county, and city where you reside and which court summoned you.

It is of course "legitimate" for any eligible citizen to be summoned. However, a summons does not directly mean you are required to serve as a juror. It means that you are required to respond, either by showing up at the appointed time or by following the directions to request a postponement or to be excused from service.

Postponements are usually granted automatically (the first time) without any documentation required. If you have a medical condition which you expect to be resolved within a few months, you can just request a postponement, and do your jury service later.

You can also request to be excused entirely, meaning you will not be required to serve. (Although you may be summoned again later, usually after at least a year, at which point you'd need to request another excuse.) Requests to be excused are administratively reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and the requirements for being granted one vary from court to court.

In some places, a request can easily be made online and will likely be granted with little friction, especially with documentation like a letter from a doctor explaining why you are medically unfit to serve. In other places, the process may be more involved or stringent.

If you receive a summons, it will include instructions for requesting a postponement or excuse from service. These instructions will vary depending on the court that has summoned you (eg city, county, state, or federal court), so they may be different from summons you've received before.

If you are medically unfit for service, follow the summons's instructions and submit any required and/or optional documentation.

Courts understand that people are humans, have obligations and disabilities, and are generally not trying to ruin anyone's life. But like any bureaucratic institution, you have to follow the established process.

  • This does leave open the possibility that a judge could ignore or disagree with the claim and hold the juror in contempt for not appearing, even if it's impossible, doesn't it?
    – Corrodias
    Commented Apr 2 at 18:17
  • 4
    @Corrodias: It's unlikely that an actual judge deals with any of this routine stuff on a regular basis. In practice, a court's staff runs most of the empaneling process, including the random selection of citizens, sending of summons, processing of postponement/excuse requests, and tracking attendance. The first time a judge is meaningfully involved is when you show up and voir dire starts. A properly submitted request will never be ignored; you will be informed whether it was approved or denied (by the staff; that's the "administratively" part) in advance.
    – josh3736
    Commented Apr 2 at 19:20
  • 4
    If denied, there's likely a way have that decision reviewed (perhaps getting an actual judge involved), but you'd have the ask the court about that. If you aren't granted an excuse and you don't show up, then a bench warrant is issued. (Notably, this is not "contempt".) What happens after that will vary greatly, anywhere from you calling in and resolving the situation to arrest and jail (until you are brought before a judge, which happens relatively quickly).
    – josh3736
    Commented Apr 2 at 19:25

Yes. Normally, you have to appear and offer up your explanation while you are subject to cross-examination.

  • 1
    What happens for people who are medically unable to come to court at all? (Bedridden, hospitalized, comatose, etc.) Commented Apr 2 at 5:48
  • 11
    @NateEldredge If the court tries to hold them in contempt, they have the defense that they were unable to comply with the obligation to attend.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 2 at 10:33
  • 4
    @NateEldredge people in those situations can send in the forms and documentation before the date and usually request a postponement that way.
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 2 at 15:34
  • 1
    @Trish The question basically assumes that a request of this kind was denied.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 2 at 19:46
  • 6
    @phoog As a practical matter, probably 90% of courts that hold jury trials do absolutely nothing to punish people who fail to appear to a jury summons and most of the rest are quite reasonable and would provide the kind of accommodation you suggest. But every now and then, some court gets sick of having its jury summonses ignored and embarks on a campaign of wooden strict enforcement. And, the question assumes that the court won't accept a mere doctor's letter (although it doesn't specify the condition in question - they all accept death, e.g., or that someone has moved to a new county).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 3 at 15:04

It depends on your medical condition

If you can or can not serve as a juror is up to the courts to decide. For this, bringing a medical note that explains what you can or can't do can help. In general, the requirements are simple:

To be legally qualified for jury service, an individual must:

  • be a United States citizen;
  • be at least 18 years of age;
  • have resided primarily in the judicial district for at least one year at the time of completion of the qualification questionnaire;
  • be able to adequately read, write, understand, and speak the English language;
  • have no disqualifying mental or physical condition that cannot be addressed with an accommodation;
  • not currently be subject to felony charges punishable by imprisonment for more than one year; and
  • never have been convicted of a felony (unless civil rights have been legally restored or never were lost in the jurisdiction of conviction).

Let's iterate through some examples of what could be disqualifying mental or physical conditions:

Alice has deficient kidneys. She needs to go to dialysis every day for 2 hours. The condition won't ever go away. With the proper doctor's notes she can request to not serve Jury duty, and it is likely to be granted.

Bob is cognitively challenged and on a standard IQ test, he tests below 80 points. Medical papers might assist in getting him freed of jury duty for he might not follow the proceedings properly, but technically there is no minimum IQ required. However, if Bob is unable to read, write, understand, or speak coherently, his low capacity could result in dismissal.

Charly has a broken leg. The doctor's note says he shouldn't move the leg at all for four weeks. His Jury Duty might be postponed for some months.

Dorothy has panic attacks whenever she is in a locked room. The doctor's note specifies which medication she requires to be able to prevent a panic attack when she is on the jury stand. The court needs to either accommodate her condition (such as by making sure the medication is there for her) or otherwise make sure she can follow the proceedings and deliberations, or dismiss her on medical reasons.

Process to follow

To get the dismissal for medical reasons, you have to appear and give your explanation as to why you can't serve in person, with the doctor's note. If you are unable to appear (such as Charly in the Hospital), you have to inform the court in a timely manner, such as by calling in and sending the required documentation at the earliest possible time.

The exact details are regulated in the court rules for each court. The Jury summons should contain the required forms and addresses to request postponement or dismissal for disability. If the forms are missing, at least a contact address should be in the letter to request assistance.

  • Variously some occupational groups may be disqualified from jury duty, one typical group is lawyers or police officers and court officials.
    – civitas
    Commented Apr 2 at 23:20
  • 5
    @civitas or firefighters and EMT , but that is in the court rules and should be on the jury sheet. Lawyers usually get thrown out during voire dire.
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 2 at 23:55
  • Clergy, also, typically get dismissed. (Source: conversations with clergy.)
    – arp
    Commented Apr 3 at 1:21

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