How Is A Jury Chosen?
Even if you’ve never been called for jury duty, you’ve probably heard horror stories from friends or family about freezing courthouses, long days, and endless questions. Jury duty might not be the most exciting activity in the world, but it’s incredibly important. According to the sixth amendment of the United States constitution, those accused of crimes are entitled to “a speedy and fair trial, by an impartial jury of the state . . .” Without jurors, cases would not be speedy, fair, and impartial.
However, not all cases require a jury. As the sixth amendment states, trials by jury tend to be reserved for criminal cases, or for cases with more serious consequences. For a case to be considered “serious,” the penalty for the crime must be six months imprisonment or more. Less “serious” cases might be settled before they even make it to court. Other times, the trial may be given before a judge, who makes the final verdict. This doesn’t mean that all cases that go before a jury have to be high-profile crime cases, though. Plenty of personal injury cases, especially those involving DUIs or serious car accidents, go before a jury.
Does jury duty already seem too complicated? Luckily, the process is actually pretty simple! It can be broken up into three steps:
The potential jurors are called to jury duty. People are chosen at random from voter registration and driver’s license lists. Though only 12 people are actually needed for the jury, as many as 30 and 40 people might be called in, since, as you’ll soon see, not everyone makes the cut to be on the jury. The jurors are told to show up at the courthouse on a specific day, and unless you really have a good excuse, you have to go. Don’t worry, though — you can only get called in for jury duty once per year!
The potential jurors are questioned by the attorneys (both the defense and the prosecution) in a process called voir dire. The term voir dire comes from the French phrase for “to speak the truth.” During this process, the jurors are interviewed to see if they are the appropriate jurors for the case.
During this process, the attorneys might ask questions such as:
- Is the juror related to any of the parties or key witnesses? Do they personally know anyone involved in the case?
- Does the juror already know about the case through TV, newspapers, or other media? Has their exposure to the case influenced their ability to make an impartial decision? This is something that is especially considered in high-profile crime cases, like the Casey Anthony or George Zimmerman trials, since they attract a lot of media attention and strong opinions.
- Does the juror have a bias or belief that would make them unable to fairly consider the facts of the case? In a case that has the potential for a death penalty, for example, a juror who states that they are categorically opposed to the death penalty would likely be dismissed, because their belief might influence their decision.
If an attorney can argue that a potential juror shows a certain bias, the juror will be dismissed from the case. This is called a challenge for cause. The attorneys can dismiss an unlimited amount of jurors, so long as their bias is recognizable. Attorneys also have limited opportunities to dismiss jurors without giving a reason. In these instances, it’s often because the attorney suspects that the juror will not be sympathetic toward their client, but cannot actually prove the bias. These are called peremptory challenges.
After the unfit or biased jurors have been dismissed, the jury is finally selected! The 12 people who are selected for the jury have been proven to be capable of making a fair decision. They will hear the case, including remarks from both sides and the testimony of any witnesses. Then, they make a decision about the verdict of the case.
Only 27% of adults report that they’ve served on a jury. Many people go their entire lives, or at least long periods of time, without being called for jury duty. So, if you’re really dreading the idea of jury duty, there is still hope that you’ll never get called!
Still, though, jury duty is a critical and respectable component of the legal system. You might not be happy about missing a day of work or sitting through the entire process. But by going to jury duty, you are helping to keep the justice system fair!
The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.