Jury Selection

uring jury selection, which is also known as voir dire, the lawyers, the judge or both will question prospective jurors about their backgrounds and their ability to be impartial. Prospective jurors may be struck from the panel in two ways. Lawyers may exercise a “challenge for cause,” claiming the juror could not be impartial. If the judge agrees, the potential juror is excused. “Peremptory challenges” allow lawyers to remove a juror without stating a reason. Both sides are given a limited number of these peremptory challenges.

Jury selection in death penalty and other complex cases can take several weeks. In some courts, judges handling a high-profile trial will call in 200 or more jurors to fill out an extensive questionnaire, and then call in 20 or more a day to be questioned individually and challenged for cause. On the final day of jury selection in such cases, the qualified pool of jurors is called in, both sides exercise their peremptory challenges, and the jury is seated.

You should never contact a prospective juror or his or her family or close friends, nor should you speak about the case if you know you are in the presence of a juror while a case is active. This is considered jury tampering—a crime.

In cases in which judges are concerned about the safety of jurors, the jury may be anonymous, identified only by numbers. No one, other than the person in the clerk’s office who arranges their payment (jurors are paid $40 per day), will know their names in such a case. A judge may decide that a need exists to sequester a jury—keep all jurors in the court’s custody until a trial concludes.


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