The right of a criminal defendant to be tried before a jury of their peers is a foundational principal of the United States justice system. This right is enshrined in the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights. But what does it mean to be tried before a jury of your “peers?”
Putting your life and liberty in the hands of 12 frustrated registered voters (or licensed drivers), who probably don’t want to be there, is a discouraging thought. But a skilled criminal defense attorney with the ability to connect to a jury knows how to shape and persuade the jury’s mind.
This article discusses how jury selection works, and the strategies attorneys employ to gain a potential advantage that could determine the outcome of the trial.
Juries are questioned by the court and the attorneys to gain a deep understanding of how a prospective juror will handle a case. At a minimum, they must meet the legal requirements to serve on the jury.
In Georgia, a person is qualified to serve on a jury if they:
- Have U.S. Citizenship;
- Are at least 18 years old;
- Understand enough English to talk about the case;
- Are a resident of the county where the summoning Superior Court is located;
- Have not served as a juror in the past year;
- Are not serving on a grand jury or other trial jury;
- Are not under conservatorship;
- Were previously convicted of felony or malfeasance as a public official.
Questioning by Counsel
After the court determines that a juror is legally qualified to serve on the jury, the prosecution and defense counsel are given an opportunity to question each juror. Jurors must be capable of putting their personal biases aside and examining the facts in an objective manner. At this point, the jury pool far exceeds 12 people to account for dismissals later.
Effective voir dire practice will tease out indicators of bias from the jurors, and flag those individuals to be challenged later. A skilled attorney will see voir dire as a chance to begin educating and persuading the jury.
The prosecution can use voir dire to get the jury to focus on the victim as the party who truly needs to receive justice. The defense can use jury selection to begin crafting a message that the defendant is a human like everyone else, and reminding them about the presumption of innocence and the high standard for conviction: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“For-cause” Challenges. After the prospective jurors are questioned, the prosecution and defense counsel have the opportunity to dismiss a juror for cause. Sometimes a juror will demonstrate bias by simply saying they’re biased. But, keep in mind, some people might lie about bias to get out of jury duty.
For-cause challenges do not guarantee dismissal. The prosecution has an opportunity to argue against dismissing a juror for cause. If their argument is persuasive, the challenge will be denied.
Peremptory Challenges. The parties do not need to give a reason for exercising a peremptory challenge. A peremptory challenge dismisses a juror with no questions asked. However, the number of peremptory challenges is limited by law.
In Georgia, the defendant in a felony case is limited to 9 peremptory challenges. If the defendant is facing the death penalty, they are allowed 15 challenges.The prosecution is allowed as many peremptory challenges as the defendant.
Retain Serious Criminal Defense Counsel in Marietta
If you are facing criminal charges, you should hire a qualified Marietta criminal defense attorney to represent you throughout criminal proceedings. At Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C., we have experience representing defendants in all phases of their criminal proceedings. From police questioning to jury selection, we make sure our clients have effective defense counsel to ensure they receive a proper and fair trial, as guaranteed by the constitution.
To schedule a consultation with one of our criminal defense lawyers, call (770) 629-0154 or contact us online today.