The Jury Selection Process in Criminal Cases

Jury Selection in Texas

Under the laws of the United States, every person who is charged with a criminal offense is entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers. However, not everyone knows just how jury members are selected for this job. Although many people will be faced with a jury summons at some point in their lives, they may not know exactly how or why they have been selected for this role.

There is a specific process that determines which people are chosen to serve as a jury member in a criminal trial. Knowing more about this process can help people understand exactly why they were selected to fulfill this important role.

How Are Jurors Selected?

Before a criminal trial can begin, a panel of eligible jurors must be selected. In most cases, potential jurors are chosen from a pool of eligible individuals. In order to be considered for jury duty, a person must meet these requirements:

  • They must be at or over the age of 18 years and be eligible to vote
  • They must not have a felony conviction on their record
  • They must be free of any conflicts or conditions that could interfere with their specified duties

In most cases, potentially eligible jurors will be selected from lists of eligible voters. However, not all of the potential jurors who are chosen will be allowed to serve in an actual criminal case. There is a more stringent juror selection process, known as voir dire, that will determine who will serve on the actual jury for a criminal case.

What Is Voir Dire?

In most cases, potential jurors for a criminal case will be asked to complete a questionnaire. This will determine if there are any initial conflicts that will prevent a juror from being impartial during a case. All jurors who pass this questionnaire may be subject to the voir dire process.

For example, a potential juror who must care for a sick family member may be excused from the voir dire process because of their legitimate undue hardship.

During the voir dire process, lawyers for the prosecution and defense are allowed to question potential jurors to detect any pre-existing biases. For example, in a case with a racial component, a lawyer may be allowed to ask potential jurors if they have any reason to favor a client with a certain racial background. Any jurors who agree with this sentiment may be dismissed from the juror selection.

However, lawyers in the voir dire phase are not allowed to ask directly personal questions of the potential jurors and they are not allowed to ask potential jurors to issue a verdict before the facts of the case have been presented.

Potential Juror Challenges

Once the attorneys have completed the questioning phase of the voir dire process, they are allowed to challenge the eligibility of certain jurors. In general, they are allowed to make challenges under two claims:

  • Actual bias
  • Implied bias

A juror who presents actual bias is a a juror who makes a direct claim that they cannot make a fair, impartial judgment in a particular case. For example, a juror who states that they cannot be impartial in a case of alleged police brutality because they used to serve as a police officer may be determined to have an actual bias. In this case, a lawyer could ask for this juror to be removed from the selection pool.

In a case of implied bias, a juror may be marked for exclusion from the jury pool because of characteristics that make them unlikely to be impartial. In these cases, even a juror who claims that they can be totally impartial may be marked for removal from the selection pool. For example, a juror who is from the same neighborhood as the defendant may be marked for removal because they may share sympathy with the defendant in the trial, which could prevent them from being impartial.

Lawyers are also allowed to make a predetermined number of peremptory challenges to potential jurors. Attorneys can designate certain qualified potential jurors to be removed from the selection group because they may be impartial towards the defense or prosecution. The number of peremptory challenges allowed to each lawyer can vary based on the nature and severity of the offense being tried.

The Final Process

Lawyers who have a legitimate reason for contesting a juror are allowed to state their case. These jurors will be removed from the pool until a final jury has been selected. Once the final pool has been narrowed down, the trial can proceed.

The jury selection process can be complex and lawyers go to great lengths to ensure an impartial jury.

Consulting with an attorney is the best way to learn more about the jury selection process.

Have you or someone your know been charged with a crime? Houston attorney Matthew Sharp provides the tough, smart counsel needed in these times. Contact him immediately at (713) 868-6100 to get the legal help you need.