So you’ve received your notice for jury duty? What can you expect? In my last post, I wrote about how jurors were initially selected. Once they are in the courtroom, in state courts, the lawyers do most of the questioning.
What are the lawyers looking for and why do they ask the questions they do?
Prior to starting the trial, a large group of prospective jurors will be assembled in the courtroom. The lawyers will ask questions of each juror and will either accept the person for the final jury or “strike” them from the panel to get a final group of twelve. Here’s what’s going on:
1. The lawyers are looking for past experiences that may bias the juror.
If the person has been the victim of any crime, particularly the same type as the defendant is accused of, it could cause the juror to be upset and want to “take-out” their anger or trauma on the accused person, even if the evidence shows the accused is not guilty. Or from the prosecutor’s viewpoint, if the juror was treated badly by the police in the past, they may want to “get even” by not believing police witnesses in the present trial.
2. The juror’s associations may taint the way they view the evidence.
If the juror was a former cop or law enforcement, they may be biased against the accused simply because of their previous work and be unwilling to listen to evidence that may show the defendant not guilty. Or perhaps the juror has worked for a political organization that has a different agenda than law enforcement and the person will not listen to the evidence fairly because of their political leaning. I’ve had jurors say the justice system is so corrupt, in their opinion, that they’d never find anyone guilty even if the evidence showed the defendant’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes, friends and family are involved in organizations or jobs that have caused the juror to develop biases one way or another.
3 The juror may be biased against either side because of racial, ethnic, or religious reasons.
Most jurors, in my experience, no longer say things like, “I don’t trust any black people.” But they still harbor those feelings. It’s difficult, but lawyers try, through a variety of questions, to pry underneath the surface to discover if there are any biases like these.
4. Does the juror have the courage to make difficult decisions?
Both sides worry about this. The prosecutor will ask the jury to find another human being guilty–knowing that will cause a severe penalty, maybe even death in some states. The defense will ask the jury to find the client not guilty, even though the crime may be a vicious and violent one in which everyone would like to see the perpetrator found and convicted–even if it isn’t the accused person in the trial. Can the juror do that? I usually ask the question exactly as I’ve written it here. It causes most people to stop and think for awhile.
5. Can the juror follow the law and evidence?
Sounds simple but is difficult in practice. For instance, the law says that the accused person is presumed innocent and doesn’t have to prove anything. The government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. What if the defendant chooses not to testify in their own defense? As humans, we always want to “hear the other side of the story.” If the jury doesn’t hear from the defendant, can they still find him not guilty if they feel the government has failed to prove him guilty?
Next post, we’ll look at what lawyers are really trying to do in jury selection!