During a criminal trial a jury examines the evidence presented by the defense and prosecution to decide whether, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a defendant committed a crime. A fair trial allows for the government and the defendant to argue their sides of the case. And a fair trial starts with the selection of a fair jury.
Criminal Trial Phases
A criminal trial typically consists of six following phases:
- Choosing a Jury
- Opening Statements
- Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instruction
- Jury Deliberation and Announcement of Verdict
Today we will focus on the first phase, that of selecting a jury.
Choosing a Trial Jury
The first step then of a criminal trial is to select the jury. During jury selection, the judge, the prosecutor (representing the government), and the defendant (through his or her respective criminal defense attorney) will screen potential jurors from a pool of jurors.
During the jury selection process, the judge, prosecution, and defense team will ask potential jurors about any ideological predispositions or life experiences that may interfere with being able to remain unbiased during the case hearing. After questioning a jury is selected.
While jury duty might be a burden and might feel like a waste of time, for a defendant, the selection of a fair juror can mean the difference between a life sentence or freedom.
Fair Jurors for a Trial
The role of a juror is an important one. They alone can decide the future of the defendant on trial. A juror must hear the evidence presented during the trial, deliberate, and decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charged crimes. Because of this, an unbiased jury must be assembled.
The criminal court system has a system in place that allows for certain rights of a defendant during the juror selection process. This means that a defendant (through his or her attorney) is able to dismiss unfair potential jurors from the jury. The same rights are given to the judge and prosecution team. These rules allow for a fair jury to be selected by all parties that are involved in the case.
The goal of the juror selection process is to put together a jury that will only take into account the evidence presented during the trial so that, during juror deliberation, a fair decision will be made.
Trial Jury Pool Representative of the Community
To pick a fair jury, attorneys will need to have options for jurors. The jury pool (also known as a venire) is the collection of potential jurors assembled from the community. This jury pool is usually chosen via voter-registration lists. Once a person has registered to vote, they are also entered into a list that they can be “summoned” from for jury duty.
This jury pool is composed of a cross-section of the community that cannot intentionally exclude groups and cannot be based on race, gender, or religion. Examples of distinct community groups include:
- Native Americans
A jury pool will be selected randomly from all of these community groups. While it must not be an exact match of the community, it must representative of the community.
Voir Dire Questioning Potential Trial Jurors
Once a jury pool is formed the potential jurors are summoned to the courthouse on a particular day and time. The jury pool will wait in a room until they are called to a courtroom. Once in the courtroom, the jury selection process begins with questioning. This process of questioning potential to determine any potential biases is called “voir dire.”
Challenging a Juror for a Trial
During voir dire, the prosecution and defense will interview potential jurors to determine if there are biases that would prevent a juror from being impartial when it comes to deciding on a verdict. If an attorney, either for the prosecution or the defense, chooses to excuse a potential juror, he or she must use a “challenge,” which is a request to disqualify an individual from the jury.
A challenge for cause is when a request to dismiss a potential juror is based on a specific and stated reason. Typically this reason is because it’s been identified by the prosecution or defense that the potential juror has a potential or actual bias. Examples of reasons to challenge for cause include the following:
- Exposure to negative pretrial publicity
- Connection to law enforcement or the defendant
- Victim in a similar case
- Accidental exposure to the defendant while he was in custody
Attorneys usually are given unlimited challenges for cause. A court may also choose to dismiss a potential juror for cause without a challenge from an attorney.
Jurors can also be dismissed without stating a reason as part of a peremptory challenge. This challenge is usually based on an attorney’s experience and gut feeling when it comes to choosing a juror. There are typically limited amounts of peremptory challenges that an attorney is able to use during jury selection.
Potential jurors are not allowed to be dismissed due to a particular characteristic, such as race, ethnicity, and gender. This rule does not apply to challenges based on age or on mental and physical disabilities.
Alternate Trial Jurors
Once a jury is selected, alternate jurors are selected in case a regular juror needs to be replaced because of inability to perform jury duty. Alternate jurors are questioned and selected in the same manner as the regular jurors.
Input From Defendant
In terms of the defense’s side, a criminal defense attorney will make the ultimate decision about selecting jurors. But these decisions are not made without the defendant’s input.
Your criminal defense attorney will handle all of the questioning during the voir dire process because a defendant is not allowed to address the potential jurors. The only exception to this law is if the defendant is representing himself or herself.
It is never advised that a defendant represents himself or herself, and if you have been accused of a crime, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney.
If You Are Detained
If you are detained in jail, remember there are still ways to incriminate yourself. There are some general guidelines you should follow, including the following:
- Do not discuss anything over the phone. This is often recorded and can be overheard.
- Do not discuss with fellow in-mates. Remember that anyone in jail is looking for a way out. That could include providing information about you in order to improve their position with the state.
- Do not make statements or answer questions without an attorney present.
- Never waive your rights to something without first speaking with an attorney.
- Know how to be steadfast with your requirement that an attorney be present during any interrogation or questioning.
Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal charges can be complex, requiring much gathering of evidence and information. It’s highly advised that you work with an experience criminal defense attorney that will be able to advise you on the best defense. If you have been arrested and accused of a crime, you need to acquire and work with a criminal defense attorney such as Sevens Legal, APC. Once you have discussed the specifics of the allegations against you with your attorney, they will inform you of the strengths and weaknesses pertaining to your case, as well as any risk of conviction and punishment you may be facing.
A criminal defense attorney such as Sevens Legal, APC, can also negotiate a plea deal as well as decide to move forward with trial, while working constantly to make sure your best interests are served. At Sevens Legal, APC, every defendant has a right to our zealous defense. Contact Sevens Legal, APC, today for a free consultation. Our firm award winning attorneys provides hope and peace of mind. The Sevens Legal, APC office is located in both San Diego and Escondido. We have time and time again helped Southern California residents get their cases dismissed or penalties reduced. Contact Sevens Legal, APC, today for a free consultation.
Criminal Defense Attorneys
3555 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: (619) 297-2800