There is no more important process in a criminal trial than the selection of jury members. The jury in your criminal case will decide if you are guilty or innocent, whether you are free to live your life or spend years in prison. While jury members are supposed to be impartial, no jury member comes to the court as a blank slate. Many will have preconceived notions of justice and about people accused of crimes. It is up to your criminal defense attorney to suss out who these biased jurors are and make sure that they are not the ones potentially deciding the rest of your life. Choosing the wrong jury can ensure that your case is lost before it even begins, so making sure that you have the most sympathetic or at least impartial jury members is a must.
The Courtroom Process of Jury Selection
Under North Carolina General Statute Section 915, the attorney in a jury trial is given the right to conduct Voir Dire, or the preliminary examination of a juror. Voir Dire serves many purposes. These include:
- Discovering if a juror has hidden biases that may prejudice them against the accused;
- Ensuring that a juror will respect instructions given out by the judge;
- Weeding out jurors who will ignore the facts presented in favor of their own knowledge;
- Finding jurors who are sympathetic to the defendant;
- Finding jurors who are impartial to the alleged crime committed; and
- Discovering if the jurors have any previous experience serving on a jury.
Voir Dire is also the first instance that the jury will be exposed to the defendant and the defendant’s attorney. Even though jurors are supposed to remain impartial throughout a trial, jurors are human. If a defendant or his or her attorney makes a negative impression on the jury at the beginning of the case, it can have disastrous consequences during the jury’s deliberation.
Your Lawyer’s Selection of Jurors
Voir Dire is conducted primarily through the questioning of the potential jurors by either the judge or the attorneys in your trial. In a jury trial panel, upwards to 40 or more people are brought into the courtroom to answer questions. The defense attorney and the prosecution usually submit questions to the judge that the judge will then ask to the potential jurors at large. Jurors answer each question by raising their hand.
After the general questions have been asked, each side will have the opportunity to call out individual potential jurors, asking clarifying questions to their responses to the general questions. The attorneys in the courtroom do this to ensure that a juror will act fairly in their deliberations later.
After individualized questioning by either side, the defense attorney or prosecutor can challenge the juror and ask the judge to take him off the panel to make sure that he or she cannot be a juror, usually for one of the aforementioned reasons. This is a referred to as a challenge for cause. An attorney may have to provide the reasoning as to why they wish to strike the juror from the panel of potential jurors. Ultimately it is the judge who will make the final decision as to whether or not a juror will be able to serve. If the judge does not accept the attorney’s reasoning for striking the juror, the juror may still be able to serve.
Each side is also offered several peremptory challenges to strike potential jurors. Peremptory challenges are different than challenges for cause in that neither side has to explain why they are striking the potential juror. Any reason can be used for striking a juror with a peremptory challenge except for race, and no explanation has to be offered by the side offering the peremptory challenge.
The Voir Dire process can last a few hours to several days depending on the severity of the case. In cases where capital punishment is involved, the Voir Dire process can last for weeks. Once the process completes, the jurors are sworn in and the trial begins.
An Experienced North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Can Make All The Difference in Jury Selection
Most criminal cases never get to the trial phase as most defendants plead to lesser charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence as we have covered here before. Sometimes though there is no attractive plea agreement on the table and if you are innocent and want to make sure that you beat the criminal charges, selecting the right jury is a critical step in proving your innocence. If the wrong people are chosen to serve in your criminal trial, your fate is sealed and a prison sentence is more likely than not.
A jury of your peers is the ultimate decider of whether or not you are innocent of a crime or guilty of committing one, regardless of the truth of your innocence. Do not let strangers make the wrong decision and hurt your future. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney will know the subtle signs of a potential jury member sympathetic or impartial to your case. The lawyers at Remington & Dixon, PLLC in Charlotte, NC have the necessary legal skills honed over years of protecting criminal defendants in a court of law. They can put these skills to work for you, ensuring that you have a fair trial and the best chance possible of being found innocent.
If you have been accused of a crime in North Carolina, you need legal representation. Contact the dedicated Charlotte, NC criminal defense attorneys at Remington & Dixon, PLLC today to schedule your free initial confidential consultation.
Brandon double-majored in Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He earned his Juris Doctor from Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida. Throughout his career, Brandon has received numerous awards and recognition from his peers and agencies that rate attorneys. A few of these awards are from The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 Trial Lawyer in 2014, The National Trial Lawyers: Top 40 Under 40 in 2014, Nation’s Top One Percent: National Association of Distinguished Counsel in 2015, Super Lawyers: Rising Stars in 2018 and 2019, and North Carolina Business Magazine: Legal Elite in 2019, among others.