My wife was on jury duty last week, and was chosen for a trial. Now, I’ve never even gotten a notice for jury duty, even though over the same time period my wife has gotten notices four times, and served twice. I imagine it will happen some time, though.
And that leads to the question of whether one can manage to serve barefoot on a jury.
I don’t know of any barefooters who have done so. I know of a few who have been called, but in the end they decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and went shod (or at least sandaled). At least one of them was then able to remove the sandals once being chosen. I’m not sure just what I would do, though I hope I would not chicken out and be able to effective defend my choice if needed.
But what are the considerations when it comes to jury duty? How might one approach an attempt to serve barefooted? And what options do you have if challenged?
Many courts have jury dress codes online, so I took a look at a few of them. Most don’t mention shoes at all. I suspect that’s because they haven’t even considered the possibility that somebody might show up barefoot.
Cleveland and Pittsburgh say to dress comfortably, and while Chicago, Tampa, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Tulsa, and Seattle mention casual or business casual, they also say that things like shorts, tank tops or T-shirts with offensive writing are not allowed. Miami doesn’t say business casual, but appropriate business attire, and then adds “no shorts”.
San Antonio simply says that appropriate attire is expected, without even defining what that means.
Mobile, Alabama asks folks to dress appropriately, while noting that court proceedings are quite formal in nature.
Orlando says that ties and jackets are not required. But then they add, “A good rule to follow is to dress as if it were your case being heard.”
Jacksonville got pretty strict:
When serving Jury Duty it is requested that you dress appropriately. Casual clothes are not appropriate attire for Jury Duty. It is requested that men wear a coat and tie, and women wear a dress or pants suit. Military or other uniforms are also appropriate attire for both men and women.
(It’s interesting that Miami says no uniforms, and Jacksonville specifically says that they are fine.)
I did find two that mentioned shoes. For Tampa, it was a throw-away line: “Wear comfortable walking shoes.” Hey, bare feet are comfortable for walking. I think this line stresses the comfort, not that shoes have to be worn.
The one that takes the cake, though, is Nashville. They have a huge list of rules (11 items). Included in that is
7. Appropriate footwear must be worn at all times. No flip-flops or house shoes permitted.
While I’ve detailed what these various courtrooms say about attire, it is all probably pretty irrelevant to us. Because what we know would really happen is that if the Jury Manager didn’t like your being barefooted, he or she would simply say something like, “You should know better,” or “It is implied,” or that “Everybody knows you should wear shoes.”
How would I approach it?
First, I would have my letters with me that make it clear that going barefoot does not violate any health code.
I also would not carry along any backup footwear. I go barefoot all the time—I don’t normally carry backup footwear, so why would I do so for this? I’m doing them a service, not the other way around.
If seriously challenged, I would try to tell them I am more than willing to do jury service, and that bare feet are irrelevant to that. Furthermore, I would say that forcing me to put on shoes against my will would completely remove my ability to be impartial and would convince me that justice was impossible in that courtroom. Regardless of what went on, I would be unable to overcome that presumption in deciding a case.
I would expect to have to tell this to the judge (in fact, I’d ask to talk to the judge if the Jury Manager didn’t suggest it). It is the judge who would make any final decision, anyways. It is his or her courtroom, after all.
If after all that the judge still says that shoes are required and you still refuse, there is the possibility that the judge will charge you with contempt of court. You may decide to acquiesce at this point.
On the other hand, if you are a royal-pain-in-the-ass and have some legal acumen, you don’t have to stop there (but if you aren’t you’d be an idiot to continue). Contempt is
Conduct that defies the authority or dignity of a court or legislature; because such conduct interferes with the administration of justice.
(Black’s Law Dictionary.)
The thing is, simply being barefoot on a jury does not interfere with the administration of justice.
There are a few (a very few) court cases that address dress codes in court. Most were regarding attorneys, who are officially what is called “officers of the court”. In Friedman v. District Court, 611 P.2d 77, April 16, 1984 (Alaska Sup. Ct.) and Sandstrom v. State of Florida, 309 So.2d 17, February 28, 1975 (Florida Sup. Ct.) contempt against the attorneys was upheld for not wearing a coat and tie. However, in Jensen v. Superior Court of San Diego County, 201 Cal. Rptr. 275, 154 Cal. App. 3d 533, April 16, 1984 (California Ct. of App., Dist. 4), a prohibition on a lawyer wearing turban was reversed, since it did not disrupt the court. That was the similar result for a female attorney who was cited for contempt for wearing a mini-skirt in Peck v. Stone, 32 App.Div.2d 506, 304 NYS 2d 881 (New York App. Div. 4, 1969).
But those are all for attorneys. I could only find one case involving non-attorneys, and in that case they were defendants (not jurors), who were cited for not wearing a coat and tie. That case was Kersevich et al. v. Jaffrey District Court, 114 N.H. 790, 330 A.2d 446, December 31, 1974 (New Hampshire Sup. Ct.). Here’s the syllabus from the court explaining things:
1. A district court has power to punish for contempt occurring in its presence persons whose acts or conduct would obstruct or interfere with the orderly administration of Justice.
2. In formulating dress requirements for parties appearing before it, a district court must exercise care not to impose rigid standards of dress that are not directly related to the needs of judicial administration.
3. The plaintiffs’ neat appearance without ties and jackets and wearing sport shirts hanging over their trousers in deliberate noncompliance with a district court’s dress requirements of jacket, tie, and slacks for male parties owning such attire did not tend to interfere with the orderly administration of Justice and did not constitute unsuitable, unconventional, or inappropriate attire. On this record, plaintiffs’ conduct did not constitute cause for the district court’s finding of plaintiffs in summary contempt and sentencing of them to imprisonment.
(Note: #3 might be confusing. While they were defendants in the original case, in this case fighting the contempt citation they were the plaintiffs, so that is how they are referred to in #3.)
I don’t see how being a barefoot juror could possibly interfere with the orderly administration of justice. But it sure would be a lot of work fighting it in court, wouldn’t it?
It still might be fun to do. (And yes, I do have a very odd idea as to what constitutes “fun”.)