If you have been charged with a crime and are facing a trial, you are entitled to be judged by a jury of your peers. That jury is chosen in a very specific manner to ensure that there is no bias or prejudice that could influence the case.
According to the American Bar Association, the jury size may change based on the type of case that is being tried. Misdemeanor cases may have less than 12 jurors. Serious criminal cases usually have an increased number of jurors. In civil cases, the jury typically consists of six members.
These are the steps taken to select a jury:
1. Random selection
Potential members are pulled by federal or state districts off a list of names that is kept for regular course of business. This may be a list of those who have valid driver's licenses, receive unemployment or are registered to vote. Once the name is pulled from these lists, the individual receives a notice in the mail with a court date. Unless there is a pressing reason that stops the person from appearing at court, the individual is required to be present.
2. Jury selection
The second step of choosing a jury is a stage called "voir dire" and refers to the process taken to narrow down the pool of potential jurors. This process can change drastically from court to court or state to state. If the pool of potential jurors is too large, a judge may just randomly pick people off the list and excuse them.
During the process, the attorneys and the judge will interview each potential member about his beliefs and background. This questioning may happen in private or in front of the rest of the pool, depending on the situation. If there is something in an individual's background that may influence the case, the attorney may challenge a juror for cause.
For example, in a rape case, the juror could not be a victim of any type of rape as this may prejudice him or her against the defendant. While attorneys may also object through a peremptory clause, there are be limits to these clauses. An attorney cannot use one based on the gender or race of the individual.
The jury that is chosen can have a direct impact on the outcome of a trial. Attorneys and the judge are required to ensure that defendants get a fair shot at proving their innocence with jury members who are unbiased and fair.