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Know Your Rights – How Are Jurors Selected

Attorney Adrian M. Madrone has teamed up with Law Professor Julie A. Helling’s acclaimed Internet Podcast Series Justice On Trial. In this episode, Adrian discusses the process someone goes through before they’re selected as a juror.

Intro and outro music provided by Jason Shaw. To listen to the complete podcast, visit the Justice On Trial website.

How are Jurors Selected?

When people see attorneys on tv and in the movies, they are usually seeing attorneys in trial. In reality, many attorneys (in fact, most attorneys) do their work without ever going to trial. The vast majority of legal work in the United States is done outside of the trial courtroom. However, some cases do still go to trial and you could be called as a potential juror for these trials. So, we’re going to talk about what the process of trial actually looks like. Trials are complex, and so we are going to split the discussion of trials into several segments. Today we will focus on preliminary matters and jury selection. In future segments, we will discuss opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing arguments, and verdicts.

Trial by Judge or Jury

Prior to a trial, the attorneys will have to decide whether to have the case heard by a jury, or by a judge alone. When a judge alone hears a trial, this is called a bench trial. There can be a number of strategic and legal reasons why attorneys may choose to have a bench trial rather than a jury trial. Sometimes the evidence may seem too complex for a jury (like a case involving lengthy financial records). In some other cases, like divorces and child custody disputes, the law may not allow for a trial by jury.

Juror Selection

From here, let’s focus on cases that will be presented as jury trials. For a jury trial, things start out first with jury selection.

Where do Jurors Come From?

After the attorneys and judge have gone over their preliminary matters, a jury is impaneled. Jury pools are made up of local community members, and the lists for jury pools are typically pulled from driver’s license records and voter registration. Community members who respond to their jury summons are typically gathered in an assembly room prior to being called into the courtroom.

How Many People are in an Initial Jury Pool?

When the jury panel is brought into the courtroom, there are typically more panelists than will actually make it onto the jury. Depending on the type of case and the local court rules, juries can be anywhere from 6 to 12 people. So the group brought into the court room may be anywhere from a couple dozen to many more than that. Complex and high profile trials may even require hundreds of people in the initial jury pool.

Juror Questioning

Once the potential group of jurors is assembled, the jury selection process begins. Jury selection can vary greatly from place-to-place. Some courts will begin with a written questionnaire before questioning the potential jurors directly. When it comes to direct questioning, in some places, only the judge will question the potential jurors (often using questions proposed by the attorneys). Other places will allow the attorneys to question the potential jurors directly (this has become the more common method of jury questioning).

For the most part, the questioning of potential jurors will focus on a few things.

Are the Jurors Able to Attend?

First, the parties will want to determine if there are potential jurors who might be unable to sit on the jury due to medical issues, work conflicts, or personal scheduling. Some potential jurors may be excused on those grounds alone.

Are the Jurors Fair?

Next, the parties will want to find out if there are any jurors who simply cannot be fair in this particular trial. For example, in a DUI trial, a potential juror may express that they lost a friend or family member to a drunk driver, and therefore simply cannot envision being fair and impartial for this type of case. If a potential juror expresses a firm belief that they cannot be fair and impartial, they will be excused for cause. There is no limit to the number of jurors that can be excused for cause.

Is There Anything Else Barring Them from Jury Duty?

Finally, the parties will want to get an overall read of the remaining jurors, and what kinds of beliefs, feelings, and personalities they are bringing to their roles as jurors.

What are Peremptory Challenges?

Once the questioning of the jurors has completed, the attorneys will review their notes and begin exercising what are called “peremptory challenges.” These are challenges to jurors that can be made without having to offer any specific justification. The attorneys are typically given a limited number of peremptory challenges that they can make to the remaining jurors. The only real limit to peremptory challenges is that they cannot be made for racially discriminatory reasons. If an attorney believes the other side has removed a juror for discriminatory reasons, they can raise this issue to the judge and require the attorney to state a non-discriminatory basis for exercising their challenge.

Eventually, the jury panel will be narrowed down to the six or twelve jurors who will be seated to hear the case. And the trial will be ready to begin.

On a future episode, we will discuss the process of trial after the jury has been seated. This is attorney Adrian Madrone, and this ‘Know Your Rights’ segment has been brought to you by the Lustick, Kaiman & Madrone law firm, a full-service criminal defense firm in Bellingham, Washington.

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