The jury selection process is an important part of guaranteeing a fair and impartial trial.
In a process known as "voir-dire", the judge and attorneys ask various questions to potential jurors in order to determine competency and level of bias.
A challenge of cause occurs when an attorney believes a potential juror has some form of bias, or the juror is either not competent or serving on the jury would cause some undue hardship.
An attorney can make a peremptory challenge in order to have a potential juror dismissed. A peremptory challenge does not require any reason, but attorneys have a finite number they can use.
Everyone has that feeling of dread when their jury duty slip comes in the mail. Jury duty is often viewed as an unenviable chore due to its inconvenience, length of time required, and possibility that a person may need to miss work for weeks or even months. But even though we all may dread receiving our jury duty notice, jurors provide an invaluable service and doing so is part of every American’s civic duty. Learn more about the jury selection process below and how judges and attorneys ensure a fair and impartial jury.
The Jury Selection Process
Prosecutors and defense attorneys select impartial jurors through a process called “voir dire”. The french term “voir dire” quite literally means “to see, too speak”. During this process, attorneys on both sides question potential jurors to determine their overall competency, impartiality, and suitability for the case.
Questioning the Jurors
A randomly selected panel of potential jurors called a venire file into the courtroom and take their seats. The judge commences the voir dire process by asking the potential jurors various questions to determine competency and to ensure that jury duty would not incur undue hardship. If someone is hard of hearing or a brain-surgeon, they will likely be dismissed due to their respective situations. Someone who cannot hear is incapable of taking part in the trial while a brain surgeon performs a vital function to society that they cannot miss.
Lawyers from each side will then question the potential jurors with the intent of filtering jurors who have something in their background that would lead to bias. A potential juror that knows the defendant, has a pre-existing knowledge of the case, or favors a certain political opinion may be considered a biased juror and will likely be dismissed. Lawyers are not allowed to ask overly personal questions or how the potential juror would rule in the case before-hand.
Challenges to Potential Jurors (Venire)
After the preliminary round of questioning has ended, lawyers begin removing potential jurors by making a series of challenges.
A Challenge for Cause
A challenge for cause is made when a lawyer believes that a potential juror is not qualified, able, or fit to serve. Lawyers typically are allotted an unlimited number of these specific challenges. Jurors must be legal citizens of the United States, 18 or older, able to sit through the entire trial, have the mental capacity to understand the trial, and be able to hear the trial. As such, any person who does not meet these guidelines is dismissed for cause. Jurors can also be dismissed for cause if they demonstrate either actual or implied bias.
Actual bias refers to a situation in which a potential juror makes known that he or she would vote a certain way due to their beliefs. A staunch, pro-gun activist may refuse to give a guilty verdict in a case where the defendant used a weapon to defend themself. Implied bias occurs in a situation where a potential juror has some personality trait or experience that will likely sway their opinion no matter the facts. In a case centered around a teacher embezzling from the school district, any teacher on the jury may have implied bias.
A Peremptory Challenge
A lawyer can also invoke a peremptory challenge to dismiss a potential juror. These challenges do not require a reason, but jurors cannot be dismissed due to race or class. Lawyers only have a finite number of peremptory challenges, but that number varies from state to state. A lawyer may simply have a nagging feeling about a specific, potential juror and invoke a peremptory challenge.
How Striking A Jury Works
As you now know, a juror can be “struck” or dismissed for a multitude of reasons or even for none at all. In the process known as “striking a jury”, the prosecution and defense take turns arguing for their challenges. The judge is the only person who can formally grant the challenge. When there are no more challenges for cause, both sides then argue their peremptory challenges. The number of jurors required for a trial varies from state to state with some states only requiring six jurors and others requiring 23.
If too many jurors have been struck, a judge can ask for more potential jurors or declare a mistrial. When the jury has finally been selected, the jurors are then seated in the juror box. At this time, the prosecution and defense can cite a demographic challenge on the basis that a certain race, gender, or ethnicity is either underrepresented or overrepresented. Finally, the jurors are sworn in and the next stage of the trial process can begin.