When you are charged with a crime, you have the right to defend yourself in front of a jury of your peers. The state has a high burden of proof, so sometimes a jury trial is the best approach. If a prosecutor cannot convince every jury of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they must acquit you of the charges.
Given how important the jury is in the criminal trial process, selecting the people who will serve on the jury is crucial. This process—known as jury selection—can make or break the outcome of your trial. But what happens during jury selection? A criminal defense attorney from our firm can advise you on how jury selection could impact your case.
Who Can Be Summoned for Jury Duty?
In a criminal trial, the jury ultimately determines if the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Not everyone qualifies for jury duty. A person will only receive a jury summons if they meet the basic qualifications, and their name is listed in one of the two sources where prospective jurors are chosen.
The qualifications for jury duty are few, however. A prospective juror must be at least 18 years of age and reside in the county of the court’s location. However, additional grounds can lead the court to disqualify a juror. These include:
- Mental or physical disabilities
- Inability to speak English
- Inability to read and write
- Convicted of a crime that is punishable by a year or more in prison
Potential jurors who are not excluded for these reasons are combined into a prospective juror pool. This pool of potential jurors is randomly drawn from the county voter rolls and the PennDOT Driver & Vehicle Services. The courts will draw a list of names that serve as the juror pool from these two sources. This pool varies in number, but from this group of people come the twelve jurors (and two alternates) who will ultimately decide your case.
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Receiving a Notice to Serve on a Jury
To ensure prospective jurors are aware of their responsibility, the courts will notify each person by mail that they have been selected for jury duty. This notice only establishes that a person has been selected as part of the jury pool; there is no guarantee they will serve on the jury.
The notice—referred to as a summons—will include a time, date, and location for the prospective juror to appear. While the court clerk will occasionally allow prospective jurors to reschedule due to emergencies, attendance is mandatory. A few circumstances will allow a person to get out of jury duty at this stage if they are on active military duty or are a breastfeeding mother.
Once the prospective jurors arrive, they are assigned to a case. The prospective juror pool’s size can vary, but it is usually at least 30 or more people. These individuals will then move on to a part of the process known as voir dire.
Voir Dire – The Juror Selection Process
Voir dire is the first step of a jury trial a potential juror will participate in. This is also the last stage for many of the people in the pool of prospective jurors. There is a limited number of spots on a jury, and those not selected will be released and likely assigned to a different case. In criminal trials, the number of jurors is always 12.
The voir dire process helps the prosecutor and defense attorney narrow down the pool of prospective jurors to 12. Both attorneys, often via the judge have the chance to ask each individual juror a series of questions.
These questions cover everything from the prospective juror’s background to their views on the criminal justice system. After all the questions have been answered, it is time for the attorneys to challenge certain jurors and fill out the final jury.
Striking Prospective Jurors: How It Works
The challenges that attorneys can make to jurors are called “strikes.” In total, the prosecutor or the defense counsel can make two types of strikes when selecting a jury. The Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC, has extensive experience identifying the best juror options in criminal trials.
The first type of juror strike is known as a peremptory strike. Also called a peremptory challenge, this strike is at the attorney’s discretion. The attorney does not have to give a reason when releasing a prospective juror, but each side is limited in the number of peremptory challenges it can make.
The second type of challenge is striking a juror for cause. There are no limits on this type of strike if the judge agrees it is necessary. An attorney can move to strike a juror for cause when an answer they gave during voir dire is problematic. A problematic answer could include a juror who has made up their mind about the case, indicates that they might not be able to be fairor one with a strong view on capital punishment.
Talk to an Attorney About What Happens During the Jury Selection Process
Jury selection is one of the most important aspects of any criminal trial. A biased jury could result in a bad result, no matter how strong your defense strategy might be. Due to what is at stake, it is important that you rely on legal counsel to deal with the selection of your jury.
If you still have questions about what happens during jury selection, the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC, can answer you. Our knows how to identify strong jurors and avoid weak ones. Contact us as soon as possible for a free consultation.