The Truth About Jury Selection

How many of you have served on jury duty and gone through the jury selection process?jury selection

Do you remember questions by the lawyers?  Was it interesting?  Probably boring?!!

Before a trial starts, several people are chosen from a pool of jurors.  Those people will decide the outcome of the trial.  But first, the group must be “whittled-down” to twelve “finalists” and one alternative juror—in case one of the twelve gets sick.

The jury selection process for the final twelve involves questioning by the lawyers.  What’s the purpose?

On the surface, it’s to pick the most fair-minded jury possible, right?  The lawyers inquire from each person about their attitudes on various issues.  Do they agree with the innocent until proven guilty idea?  Do they believe that the government must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt?  If the defendant is a person of color, the jury selection questions will be different.  Can the juror be fair and unbiased?  If a lawyer represents a big insurance company, can the juror be fair even to a large corporation?

The lawyers may ask the jurors what TV shows they watch.  Because it’s another way to try and discover the juror’s attitudes.  Those people with clearly biased attitudes will be excused from serving on the jury.  Everyone in the courtroom will talk about selecting the “fairest jury” possible.

But the truth behind jury selection is not always to get a fair jury.

Remember a trial is an adversarial process.  Each side wants to win.  Lawyers have an ethical duty to zealously represent their clients.  Of course, they want a fair jury—to an extent.

But underneath that, each lawyer is hoping for a jury that is biased—toward their client!  Fair, of course, but still leaning toward their client’s position.  Maybe a better word than biased is “sympathetic” to their client’s position.  To that extent, each lawyer tries to find out what the juror feels about certain issues.

For instance, if the case involves self defense, the defense lawyer will ask the jurors what they feel about self defense.  A strong response will insure the defense lawyer keeps that person on the jury.  The prosecutor may excuse him because he’s too sympathetic to the defense case.

And finally, the lawyers try to “sell” their client’s issue to the jury early on during jury selection.  They do this by asking about the issue.  Like self defense.  Under the cover of asking questions, the lawyer can really educate the jury about his case and prepare them for the evidence they will hear concerning self defense.

If you’ve been through jury selection, what was your experience?  Did you think a fair jury was selected?


About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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