When Your Fellow Citizens Get To Decide Your Case's Fate
The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is one of the most fundamental rights you have as an American. Jury selection, however, is a tricky process. The two sides in a case each take turns trying to rule out or accept jurors, and the judge also has a major say in who gets to sit on a jury.
What Types of Trials Involve Jurors?
Both civil and criminal cases are commonly heard by juries.
Do You Have to Accept a Jury Trial?
No. The alternative is a bench trial, one that's presided over and decided by a judge. Some people opt for a bench trial when there are concerns about whether any juror can judge them impartially. For example, someone with a history of criminal convictions for child molestation might elect to have their case heard by a judge instead of a jury.
Are There Always 12 Jurors?
The absolute standard of using 12 jurors is exclusive to the criminal justice system. Civil proceedings can and often do utilize smaller juries. Notably, most juries include alternate members. These are folks who can be swapped into the jury if something happens with someone in the group, such as an illness or questions about their ability to be impartial.
What Is Known About the Jury Pool's Members?
The two sets of attorneys in a case have access to rudimentary information about the potential jurors for a case. Jurors are asked to fill out questionnaires that disclose details like age, occupation, and marital status. There may also be questions on the form about any similar proceedings they have been party to or were familiar with. For example, an automotive seatbelt manufacturer facing a product liability claim would want to know whether a juror had previously been involved in an auto accident lawsuit.
More knowledge about the jurors can be gained during a process called voir dire. This is essentially a short question-and-answer session with the lawyers from both sides. The attorneys will ask questions about a juror's attitudes and experiences to determine whether they can be impartial.
How Many Jurors Can Be Rejected?
The presiding judge has an unlimited privilege to reject jurors. In most jurisdictions, both sides have a set number of rejections they're allowed, too. Once these are used up by a side, the attorneys can only appeal to the judge to intervene if they don't want a juror.
For more information on the jury selection process, contact your local law professionals.