Many people are curious as to what they should expect when participating in jury selection – either as a potential juror or as a party in a trial. The following is a brief explanation of the Jury Selection process in Palm Beach County, Florida:
When jury selection begins, the presiding judge will typically begin with a lengthy explanation of the legal process. Then, the judge will usually have the jury pool (or, the potential jurors) read aloud and answer pre-printed questionnaires created by the judge. These questionnaires have generic questions, such as marital status, employment, prior jury service, prior involvement in law suits, and other similar types of questions to allow the State and Defense to learn the background of the jurors. Once the jury has finished answering these questions, then the State and Defense will begin asking their own questions, with the State presenting first.
As a criminal defense attorney, the way I choose which questions I am going to ask a jury really depends on the facts of the case and the charge my client is facing. My jury questioning (or “voir dire”) usually begins with an “ice breaker” and an introduction of the jury to the criminal process in general, which will vary depending upon the thoroughness of the Judge’s and the State’s explanations. I want to make sure the jury understands its job, and I want to make sure they understand I am looking for jurors who will be fair. I have a few standard questions that I like to ask, such as “what are your thoughts about police officers” or “have you ever been a victim of a crime” to get an idea of how these jurors view the criminal justice system. I want to know if there are jurors who love police officers and will believe them no matter what the facts are, just as the State wants to know if there are jurors who hate police officers. Then, I will ask specific questions based on what I think are the important issues in the particular case that is there for trial. For example, if my case involves a witness who has been convicted of a crime before, I want to find out if there are jurors who are going to discredit his testimony based solely on that fact. Or, if I have a case that involves a scientific process, such as a breath testing machine in a DUI case, I want to ask questions about who will blindly trust the science, and who will question it and make his or her own determination based upon the evidence presented.
Jury selection is sometimes jokingly referred to as “jury deselection,” because the goal truly is, not to eliminate jurors, but to eliminate bias against issues in your particular case. If there are jurors that have given answers that appear biased one way or another, criminal law attorneys will follow up with those jurors specifically to ferret out the impartiality. If a juror is wavering on an important issue, criminal law attorneys will ask follow up questions to determine that particular juror’s true feelings, and ultimately determine whether that person can be fair and impartial at the end of the day, or if that person should be dismissed from the jury. Judges often inform jurors that there is “no wrong answer,” and that is entirely correct – everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, and are encouraged to express them during jury selection. Not being selected as a juror is not an insult; it simply means that the particular potential juror did not fit the issues on the case. Everyone involved in a trial, State and Defense alike, is entitled to a fair trial with impartial jurors who will be able to follow the law.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.