If you've ever been accused of committing a crime, you know how important it is to count on the system to work like it should. If a case goes to trial and you are tried before a jury of your peers, you need to know that you are getting a fair, unbiased shot at proving your innocence. The same applies if you are asked to be on the jury for a criminal or civil case. That's why understanding the jury selection process is so crucial.
The first step is random selection
Most adult Americans have experienced getting the dreaded summons in the mail that calls you to jury duty. But when you are the one facing charges, you rely on those people to do their civic duty and give you a fair trial. The first step in choosing a jury is basically random selection. Federal or state districts pull names from lists that are kept from things such as those who receive unemployment benefits, registered voters or those who hold valid driver's licenses.
Once the names are pulled, potential jury members receive a mail notice with information regarding the court date and when they should be there. While most of the time jury duty is required, there are pressing reasons that may get you out of it:
- If you have personal connections or experience with the case
- If you have a sensitivity that requires you to move around regularly or a mental illness
- If it's a murder case, you may give your opinion about the death penalty
These are just a few reasons a juror may be excused for jury duty, but most feel it is their civic duty to help with the process when they are asked.
Narrowing it down through voir dire
Once you have been selected and cleared, you will be interviewed by the attorneys and the judge to divulge information about your background and your beliefs. The attorneys then have the opportunity to object to things in your past that may influence your ability to be fair to the defendant, through "challenges for a cause" or "peremptory challenges".
Depending on the state and the type of trial, the jury may have anywhere from six to 12 people in it. The goal of the jury selection process is to find a group of people who will make a reasonable judgment based on the evidence presented, and not on their past prejudices or beliefs. This helps guarantee that every citizen has a fair shot at proving their innocence.
If you have been accused of a crime and are concerned about your future, it's a good idea to consult an attorney familiar with the jury selection process.