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Why choosing the right jury can be crucial to your future

On Behalf of | May 1, 2024 | Criminal Defense

One of the rights granted by the U.S. Constitution is the right to a “trial by jury” if someone has been charged with a crime. Many defendants prefer not to put their future in the hands of people they don’t know – especially if they can get a plea deal that involves lessening the severity of their charge and/or the consequences. Meanwhile, prosecutors would generally prefer to avoid the cost, time and manpower required for a trial.

If a defendant chooses to have a jury trial, the selection of the jurors is a critical part of the process. Choosing the right jurors can make the difference between a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict. Some defendants, if they can afford it, even add jury consultants to their legal team.

The process of choosing a jury is called “voir dire.” It involves both the prosecution and defense teams asking potential jurors questions designed to determine whether they can fairly decide the case based on the evidence presented. That means weeding out people who have had experiences that may prejudice them one way or another. For example, if a defendant is on trial for arson, the defense likely doesn’t want someone on the jury who has been the victim of that type of crime.

Reasons to excuse potential jurors

There are limits on how many potential jurors can be excused and the reasons. Each side gets a specified number of “peremptory challenges.” These are dismissals allowed for any reason aside from discriminatory ones. For example, neither side can dismiss people because of their gender, race or other protected characteristics. If the other side believes that has happened, they can make what’s called a Batson challenge.

Potential jurors can also be excused for “cause.” Each side gets an unlimited number of these challenges, but the cause must be valid. That arson victim’s dismissal would be an example of cause. The same might be true of a juror who went to high school with the defendant (even if they didn’t know them). Both sides can also look beyond what potential jurors tell them – for example, at their social media footprint and other public records that provide some insight into their views.

No one wants to find themselves sitting in a courtroom while a jury is being chosen to hear their case. However, if that’s where you are, you want experienced legal guidance beside you.