When a defendant decides to choose a jury trial over a bench trial, where the case is heard by a judge only, jury selection becomes very important to the outcome of the trial. The defense is required to follow certain procedures in selecting, and excluding, potential jurors. At the outset, jury selection starts with a large pool of people who have been summoned to serve on a jury. Gradually, through a process called voir dire, the jurors who will hear the case are selected.
Voir dire is a process through which the prosecution and the defense both get a chance to question potential jurors in an attempt to screen for bias, and otherwise determine a juror’s ability to serve on the jury. The stated objective of voir dire is to empanel a jury that is both fair and impartial. As the questioning is done, the prosecution and the defense each have an opportunity to excuse some potential jurors based on their answers to the questions asked. In excusing jurors, both sides can use peremptory challenges or excuse a potential juror for cause.
A peremptory challenge is a challenge to the inclusion of a person on a jury for any reason. Each side gets to use a certain number of peremptory challenges. Once a juror is excused, the attorney cannot undo the use of the peremptory challenge. Therefore, using a peremptory challenge is a delicate balance because it is possible that a defense attorney may use a peremptory challenge on a potential juror, and then later discover that the jury pool is much less favorable than expected.
When a juror expresses an opinion or answers a question in a way that reveals a bias or an inability to effectively serve on the jury, the juror may be excused for cause. Grounds for challenges for cause include the juror’s being related to a person connected to the case, and more often, having a state of mind that is likely to preclude him from rendering an impartial verdict.
When jurors are excused, each side and the judge have to be vigilant that the party using a peremptory challenge or seeking to have a juror excused for cause is not hiding an improper motive, for example, attempting to exclude all jurors of a certain race or gender. Jurors cannot be excluded on the basis of issues or characteristics that implicate the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution.
Apart from the technical and procedural rules to be followed in jury selection, the defense attorney may look at many other considerations that make up the kind of juror the defendant believes is either well suited for the case, or might be better excused if possible. Jury selection is a highly critical aspect of the trial, and effective jury selection comes with experience.
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If you are a facing state or federal criminal charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.