A Former Prosecutor Defending Clients in Wyoming and South Dakota
Many lawyers consider jury selection in a criminal case to be the most important part of the trial. With a sympathetic jury, a client with a difficult case can be found Not Guilty. On the other hand, a client with a solid case can lose with a jury that is unfavorable.
Choosing a jury is part art and part science. Countless books have been written about jury selection, and consultants who evaluate jurors are available to be hired. The strategies your lawyer uses to choose a jury will vary depending on the specifics of your case.
If you are on trial, it is important that you understand how a jury is selected and the strategic factors your lawyer will consider when choosing a jury in your criminal trial.
Jury duty begins when potential jurors receive a summons to appear for jury duty. Potential jurors are randomly selected from a list of registered voters and people with drivers’ licenses who live in the court’s jurisdiction. The process is designed to ensure that jurors represent a cross-section of a community without regard to race, gender, national origin, age, or political affiliation.
Jurors appear at court on the day they are summoned and are given introductory information about jury service. When jurors are needed for a criminal trial, their names are called and they are taken to the courtroom where the trial will occur. The number of jurors that are called will vary depending on the nature of the case and its profile in the community. For example, in a high-profile murder case that has been extensively covered in the local news, the judge will request more potential jurors than for DWUI trial that has not received news coverage.
Once called, the potential jurors are seated throughout the courtroom where they will be questioned by the judge and the lawyers. The question and answer format is referred to as voir dire, which is French for “to look and to see.” The purpose of voir dire is to exclude people from the jury who may not be able to decide the case fairly.
The judge begins by making introductory remarks about the criminal process in general and will ask the potential jurors about their backgrounds to ensure that they are qualified, that jury service will not cause undue hardship, and whether they can fairly and impartially evaluate the evidence presented.
Jurors are commonly asked whether they are familiar with the defendant or any of the lawyers, or have formed any preconceived ideas about the defendant and whether he is guilty of the crimes alleged. If a juror already has ideas about whether or not the defendant is guilty, that juror cannot serve on that case.
Once the judge has asked questions, each lawyer is given a chance to ask specific questions about the case they intend to present. Lawyers also use the process to identify people who might not be able to evaluate the case fairly and to ask potential jurors questions that are intended to uncover information about prior experiences that may make them favor the prosecution or the defense.
Once the lawyers have completed questioning the panel, they begin removing potential jurors. Lawyers can ask to have a juror removed for cause, which means they believe the juror cannot fairly evaluate the case.
A challenge for cause is made when the lawyer believes that the juror is not qualified to serve in a particular case. To be eligible, a juror must be a U.S. citizen, over the age of 18, live in the court’s jurisdiction, and have the right to vote. Each juror must be able to physically sit through the entire trial, and hear and understand the testimony and other evidence presented. Jurors must be able to comprehend and understand the judge’s instructions and must be able to decide the case impartially - without bias.
The prosecution and defense take turns striking jurors for cause. If the judge grants a challenge for cause, a new potential juror will be moved into the panel and the lawyers will ask that juror questions. Each lawyer has an unlimited number of challenges for cause. When challenges for cause are completed, the lawyers can remove jurors using peremptory challenges.
Lawyers can also use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors who are qualified but who the lawyer thinks favor the opposing party. A lawyer can also use a peremptory challenge to have a juror excused for no reason at all; however, each lawyer has a limited number of peremptory challenges and must use them strategically. Usually, each lawyer has three peremptory challenges; but this number will vary depending on the specifics of the case.
When a lawyer uses a peremptory challenge to excuse a juror, that juror is dismissed and a new juror takes his place. The lawyers will question that juror. When jury challenges are complete and there are enough jurors for a jury, the jury will be placed in the jury box. The judge and the lawyers then select alternate jurors.
Alternate jurors sit through the entire case and will take the place of a juror who misses any part of the trial. Depending on the nature of the case, the judge may use multiple alternate jurors. If at the end of the trial no jurors have missed the trial, the alternates are excused and do not participate in jury deliberations.
Once the jury has been empaneled, the attorneys can challenge the demographic composition of the jury by arguing that the other side used challenges to eliminate jurors on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. Errors in jury selection are common causes for appeal in criminal cases.
When jury selection is complete, the jurors are sworn in and the case moves to the next phase of the trial.
Voir dire has two purposes: to ensure that jurors will be impartial, and to familiarize jurors with the basics of the case. A good criminal defense lawyer will use voir dire to bring up potentially damaging information, both to prepare the jurors for what is to come and to gauge the jurors’ reaction.
Before choosing a jury, a good trial lawyer has a plan. Your criminal defense lawyer should have an idea of the “ideal juror” for your case. Typically, this includes the juror’s personality, socio-economic background, age, gender, and marital status. Lawyers will also ask jurors about their ability and willingness to follow the law, even if they may disagree personally with it.
If you have been charged with a crime in or around Gillette, Wyoming, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. You need a lawyer who is not afraid to take your case to trial, who knows how to choose a jury, and will protect your one shot at justice.
At Just Criminal Law, our founder, attorney Christina L. Williams, has been practicing criminal law since 2001. She has the knowledge and experience you need if you have been charged with a crime. Learn more about the cases we handle and why clients choose us, then contact us today to schedule your personalized case review and strategy session.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.