The Sixth Amendment to the U.S Constitution as well the laws of every state gives the right to trial by jury in any criminal case. In selecting juries, a process called “voir dire” occurs, which means “to speak the truth.”
In voir dire, judges and attorneys of both sides question potential jurors to determine if they’re able to serve the case. Unfortunately, errors can occur during the selection process and are often used as grounds for appeal in criminal cases.
Let’s elaborate on the process of voir dire:
Questioning the Jurors
When a trial is called, randomly selected jurors called venire are seated in the courtroom. Here, a trial judge begins the process of voir dire, asking each juror different questions. This process is to make sure they’re qualified to serve as the jury and that the service will not harm them. For example, an excuse is given to students who might miss a critical exam because of the service.
Following this, the lawyers on each side will question each of the jurors about their backgrounds and biases. These questions also include any pre-existing knowledge the juror might have on the case. The attorney’s job is to uncover any factor that can cause the juror to favor either the defense or the prosecution. However, overly sensitive and overly personal questions are not allowed to be asked by a lawyer. They also cannot ask the juror how they would conclude either.
Challenges to the Venire
Once questioning is completed, any unqualified jurors will be removed from the venire. Lawyers do this by making peremptory challenges and challenges for cause.
Challenges for Cause
This type of challenge is only made if a juror is found to be unqualified to act as a jury. Generally, lawyers can make an infinite amount of “for cause” challenges.
To be able to serve as a juror, the individual has to be a U.S. citizen, is over 18 years of age, lives in the court’s jurisdiction, and has the right to vote. The person must also be able to sit down for the duration of the trial, and listen to and understand the testimonies presented in the trial. A juror must also be capable of comprehending and applying the judge’s legal instructions. If any of these criteria is unmet, a “for cause” challenge can be made.
Judges will also dismiss jurors on the basis that they’re unable to use the law impartially. In other words, jurors who are biased, whether implied or actual, will be removed. Actual bias means that jurors admit they cannot act impartially. For example, a juror is unable to vote for a guilty verdict because of religious reasons.
As for implied bias, a juror is unable to act impartially due to certain characteristics or personal experiences. For example, a juror who is a close friend to a critical party is removed. This is regardless of whether he or she can make an unbiased decision.
This type of challenge does not require the lawyer to have a reason to dismiss a potential juror. Peremptory challenges allow lawyers to remove jurors that may be qualified but seem to favor a party. However, peremptory challenges cannot be made based on the juror’s race or class. Also, there are a certain number of peremptory challenges a lawyer can make, and that depends on the state and nature of the case.
The members of the jury go through a painstaking process to make sure that the final decision is as unbiased and impartial as possible.
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