Virginia students could ditch jury duty for textbooks

A Virginia bill could exempt college students from serving jury duty while classes are in session.

Karen Galan/Contributing Photographer

Bill 2045 passed unanimously through the Virginia House of Representatives Feb. 3. It would allow full-time college students to request exemption from jury duty while classes are in session. The bill is under review by the State Senate.

However, the student must attend school at least 50 miles from the courthouse they were summoned to.

In Broome County, requirements for jury duty include being a resident of the county, having the ability to comprehend and communicate in English, not serving on a jury for the past two years, being over the age of 18 and having no past felony convictions.

Problems arise when students, or anyone else, fail to respond to jury summons. According to the New York juror Web site, “skipping jury duty can result in civil or criminal penalties.”

“We are ahead of the curve,” said Christopher Esworthy, the Broome County Commissioner of Jurors. “We’ve been doing this for years.”

Esworthy said Broome County generally defers student jurors until spring or summer break.

“Technically we don’t have to defer them, but we understand the priority is college,” he said. “We work with the students and [they] have been positive about serving.”

Vivien Levine, a sophomore political science major at Binghamton University with family members in college, said she hopes to see a similar bill passed in New York.

“We already have enough to deal with as students,” she said. “Your professors are not going to give you an extension because you were summoned for jury duty.”

Apart from already recognizing the student dilemma, Elsworthy said he isn’t sure if New York will follow in Virginia‘s footsteps. He said refusing jury duty while classes are in session will cause an influx of student jurors at a later date.

“We don’t want to have thirty students on a panel,” he said. “We decided what was fairer. Everybody serves.”

According to Gregory Robinson, an assistant professor of political science at BU, jury duty is a vital part of society.

“[Working adults] say ‘my life is busy too,’” Robinson said. “It will be interesting to see whether they’ll resent this bill.”

Robinson said he wondered if the New York state legislature would pass a similar bill, since not every politician has a substantial number of college students in their county.

“If they’re going to make exceptions for students now, they’ll never learn responsibility,” said Robert Kuntz, a 20-year-old math and physics major. “[Jury duty] is a good experience and your role as a voter.”