Jury service is an obligation all citizens share. As an attorney, I am grateful to all who sacrifice their time in order to assist in the administration of justice. However, the current debate over whether a local Kansas City area mother, who is a stay-at-home mom and currently breastfeeding, should be held in contempt of court for refusing to serve on a jury could have been avoided.
All citizens issued a jury summons are given information on when and where to serve, as well as who to contact in order to get more information pertaining to jury service. Jackson County Missouri has an excellent website for jurors to reference. Jurors can learn about who is automatically exempt from jury duty, who may apply for exemption, and how a person can postpone service. All of these options are referenced to Missouri statutes, as well.
In the case of a stay-at-home mother who is currently breastfeeding, there are arguments that could have been made in a timely fashion that may have provided the judge discretionary grounds to excuse the mother from service. Under Missouri Revised Statute 494.430, a person may be excused for physical or financial hardship. In the case of a stay-at-home mother, childcare could pose a significant financial hardship. Childcare can range from $150-700 a week, depending on the type of childcare sought. The mother in this case also alleged that her son did not drink from bottles, rending a breastpump impracticable. Assuming this mother had to purchase a breastpump, bottles, and other accessories in order to maintain her milk supply while completing jury service, the cost could definitely be considered significant. Breastpumps cost at least a couple hundred dollars, and bottles could easily cost another hundred. If the mother had to switch to formula feeding her child, formula can cost anywhere from $25-75 or more per week, depending on the type of formula purchased and the amount the baby consumes. These costs are easily documented and quantifiable.
As for health considerations, women who breastfeed and are not given regular breaks to pump or nurse their baby could experience mastitis, a painful breast infection due to clogged milk ducts that occur when milk in the breasts is not fully expressed. A mother might be able to obtain documentation from her doctor in order to prove risk or susceptibility to such a condition.
Finally, another option would have been to simply request a six month postponement. By that time, the mother’s child would have been over a year old and it would have allowed her time to make arrangements for the possibility of serving on a jury.
Numerous states, such as Kansas, do not make breastfeeding mothers jump through hoops in order to obtain an excuse from jury service. Perhaps it is time for the Missouri legislature to address this issue, especially when the State has a campaign to encourage new mothers to breastfeed.