In criminal cases, the right to a trial by jury is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, in addition to the laws of each state. Judges and lawyers choose jurors by a process referred to as “voir dire”– “to speak the truth” in Latin.
In voir dire, the attorneys and judge for both sides ask possible jurors questions that determine if they’re suitable and competent to serve in a case. In criminal cases, mistakes during this process are grounds for appeal.
Questioning Jurors and Making Jury Selection
When the case is called to trial, a randomly chosen potential juror panel (referred to as a venire) is seated inside the courtroom.
The trial judge starts voir dire by asking potential jurors questions to make sure they’re legally eligible to serve on the jury and jury service wouldn’t cause undue hardship. For instance, the majority of states permit a student who may miss important exams, an individual with an upcoming scheduled surgery, or somebody who serves as the sole provider of an elderly or ill family member to be excused from service for undue hardship and therefore, left out of jury selection.
Then, the attorneys for both sides question the prospective jurors about their backgrounds and biases, in addition to all pre-existing knowledge they may have of the case. Also, the lawyers may ask questions made to uncover experiences or characteristics that may cause possible jurors to favor either the defense or prosecution. However, the attorneys are not permitted to ask questions that are too personal while making a jury selection, and they are not permitted to ask jurors how they’d decide the case ahead of time.
Challenges to Venire
After they’ve finished questioning, the attorneys start to remove possible jurors from the venire by making peremptory challenges and challenges for cause.
Challenges for Cause
These are made once voir dire reveals that the juror isn’t qualified, fit, or able to serve in a certain case. Generally, attorneys have an unrestricted amount of “for cause” available challenges.
Actual Bias. This comes up when possible jurors in the jury selection process admit that they would not have the ability to be impartial. For instance, a juror stating that he’d never vote for a guilty verdict in a case because his religious beliefs prevent him from sitting in judgment of an additional person could be excused for cause.
Implied Bias. This is present once prospective jurors in the jury selection process have personal experiences or character traits making it unlikely for them to have the ability to be impartial, irrespective of what they say in the voir dire process.
Striking the Jury
During the process called “striking a jury,” the defense and prosecution take turns arguing challenges for cause. If a judge grants the challenge, the juror is struck from the panel. When there aren’t any more challenges for cause, the sides will alternate in striking jurors through peremptory challenges until these are exhausted or both sides are satisfied with the panel. Some states will require that all challenges be made orally, whereby other states enable peremptory challenges to be written out.