Although most people agree that jury duty is a civic responsibility, few people actually want to serve on one. As a matter of fact, the New York Times published a clever quiz designed to help readers determine the likelihood they would be chosen for jury duty.
Movies and pop culture would have us believe that the right attorney can hand pick a jury that will render a decision in his client’s favor. However, experienced trial attorneys know that there is no formula to accurately predict whether a given juror will be favorable or unfavorable to your case.
In general, in defending a criminal defendant, we want jurors who believe in the presumption of innocence and who agree with the law that requires the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Here is how juries are selected in federal and North Carolina criminal trials.
Using stereotypes to keep or excuse a potential juror
Many trial lawyers use stereotypes about people in different occupations in deciding whether to keep or excuse a potential juror. Attorneys will also make decisions based on a potential juror’s socioeconomic status, education, age, and income.
Race and ethnicity cannot be used as a basis to exclude a potential juror.
In North Carolina state courts, attorneys in criminal cases are allowed to question the potential jurors in open court in order to find out about each juror’s background. Some of these questions are really designed to attempt to indoctrinate jurors to adopt the attorney’s point of view. Other questions are actually designed to find out a juror’s opinions about certain issues related to the case.
Dismissing potential jurors
Each party in a North Carolina state criminal case is allowed six “peremptory” challenges, where no reason need be stated, and an unlimited number of challenges “for cause,” which can only granted by a judge where it is established that a juror cannot be fair to both sides.
In a federal criminal case, the attorneys are not necessarily allowed to question the jurors. The trial judge has the power to conduct all questioning and may only allow the attorneys to submit written questions which the judge will ask on their behalf.
The prosecution in a federal criminal case is allowed six peremptory challenges while the defendant is allowed ten. As in state court, there is no limit on the number of challenges for cause.
Some attorneys may use a point system in determining which jurors to excuse and which to keep, like the one in the NYT quiz.
How we find open-minded jurors
We want jurors who are open-minded, fair, and willing to carefully listen to all the evidence during the trial. We do our best to determine who these jurors are through our questions. We pay careful attention to each juror’s answers and body language. We then consult with our client and make a well-informed decision.
The jury foreman
Years of experience with reading people based on their body language and facial expressions have given me some ability to predict which of the twelve jurors will be elected foreperson of the jury.
More often than not, when the jury comes out to announce their verdict at the end of a trial, the person who stands up and identifies themselves as the foreman is the person I predicted to be the foreman.