January 2, 2018
As a defendant, you have the right to a jury trial in a criminal case, except if you are accused of a minor infraction. If the state charges you with a capital crime, your jury will consist of 12 persons; otherwise, your jury will contain six members. These people, whom you have never met, will hold your fate in their hands. For this reason, jury selection is a critical stage in a criminal trial, and you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to find open-minded jurors to consider your defense.
Questioning Potential Jurors
Jury selection begins when a group of citizens receives notice in the mail that they need to report to the courthouse for jury duty. The court doesn’t automatically place these citizens on a jury. Instead, attorneys will question them during a process called voir dire. These jurors typically fill out a questionnaire that asks basic questions, such as whether they are married and their occupations.
During voir dire, the court will call a panel of potential jurors to the front of the courtroom and ask them to sit in the jury box. The prosecutor and your criminal defense attorney can then ask them questions to get a sense of their fair-mindedness. The judge may also ask questions. In some courtrooms, the attorneys will give their questions to the judge to ask.
Voir dire lets your criminal defense attorney root out hidden biases. For example, you might ask if potential jurors are related to people who work in law enforcement or whether they regularly attend church. These jurors may harbor biases against criminal defendants. Ideally, your criminal defense attorney will keep them off the jury.
After jurors answer questions, the prosecutor and defense attorney must decide whether to remove any, which is called striking them. For example, a juror might have admitted a familial relationship to the prosecutor, in which case you will want to ask the judge to strike the juror for cause.
However, criminal defendants can also use peremptory challenges to strike jurors without having to give the judge a reason. For example, your lawyer might have a hunch that a potential juror is biased against you because of how they glared at you during voir dire. Your attorney can use a peremptory challenge for any reason other than to discriminate against a juror on account of race or gender. If neither the prosecution nor defense strike a potential juror, then that person will join the jury.
Very few jurors will come right out and say, “I think all criminal defendants are guilty.” However, potential jurors can tip their hands in many ways, for example by using body language and tone of voice. Other potential jurors might carry biases against you because of life events, such as if a criminal victimized them. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney will know what to look for during voir dire.
Call a St. Petersburg, Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
Because the jury holds your future in its hands, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney who can weed out jurors who may conceal biases against criminal defendants. Rohom Khonsari, the founder of Khonsari Law Group, is a former prosecutor who has handled countless voir dire examinations. Call us today at (727) 269-5300 or complete an online contact form. Consultations are free.