In criminal court cases, every person being charged with a crime is entitled to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. The 6th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees everyone this right. This right is also written into the state laws of every state in our country.
There is a process for jury selection called “voir dire,” which means in Latin: “to speak the truth.” In order for a criminal trial to be as fair as possible, the judge and both attorneys can question potential jurors.
One of the jobs of a defense attorney, should you go to trial, is to advocate for you in the choice of which people will be determining your guilt or innocence. Accordingly, criminal cases are often appealed based on errors during jury selection.
Before a trial begins, a pool of potential jurors will be called and seated in the courtroom – this pool is called a venire. Trial judges make sure potential jurors are legally qualified to serve on a jury.
Legal Qualifications and the Jury Selection Process
These are the legal qualifications for being a juror:
You must be:
- A US citizen.
- At least 18 years old.
- A resident of the judicial district for one year.
- Able to speak English well enough to complete the qualification form.
- Not be subject to felony charges punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year.
- Never have been convicted of a felony (or have had your civil rights legally restored).
- Not be a member of the armed forces on active duty.
- Have no disqualifying mental or physical condition.
- Not be a member of a professional fire or police department.
- In addition, you must not be a public officer of any government in the active full-time performance of public duties.
The judge then questions each potential juror to make sure that he or she would not be subject to undue hardship in order to serve on the jury. Possible reasons for jury exemption in Michigan include being a nursing mother and an individual more than 70 years old.
How Potential Jurors are Questioned
Lawyers for each side have the chance to question each potential juror about his or her biases and backgrounds or any pre-existing knowledge they have about the case.
Lawyers can also try to get at any characteristics or experiences that might favor the defense or prosecution’s arguments. However, they can’t ask prospective jurors how they would decide the case.
After these questions, lawyers on both sides may make challenges to the selection of a potential juror. There are two types of challenges:
- “For cause” challenges and
- Peremptory challenges.
“For cause” challenges are challenges based on the criteria above as well as a potential juror’s inability to remain impartial or put aside their feelings. This is called bias.
Two Types of Bias of Potential Jurors
Potential jurors may exhibit one of two types of bias:
- Actual bias – when a potential juror admits he or she wouldn’t be able to be impartial, such as a juror claiming his or her religious beliefs prevent them from sitting in judgment on another.
- Implied bias – these are personality traits or experiences that would make it unlikely for a juror to be impartial. For example, a rape victim may say she would be able to remain impartial. However, she would probably be excused from jury duty in the trial of a man charged with rape.
Peremptory challenges don’t require the lawyer to give any reason to dismiss a potential juror. This is a way to dismiss someone who is otherwise qualified but who would be more likely to favor the other side’s argument.
Each lawyer only has a specified number of peremptory challenges – which vary by state and the nature of the case.
The lawyers from each side then take turns arguing for their challenges before a judge, which is called “striking the jury.” Once all challenges are completed and there are enough jurors for a trial, the trial can begin.
If too many potential jurors have been struck, the judge must either summon other potential jurors or declare a mistrial and begin again. This is also the time at which either lawyer could argue that the other side used their peremptory strikes to eliminate jurors on the bases of race or gender.
Voir dire can be a time-consuming and technical procedure during the jury selection process. It is a system set up to give someone charged with a crime the chance at a fair trial.
As your lawyer, I will work hard for you to choose qualified jurors. If you have been charged with a criminal case, please call my office today.