Jury selection, or the process known as "voir dire" in legal terminology, is one of the most important tasks a criminal defense attorney has before trial. In fact, many people believe that the majority of trials are actually won or lost during the jury selection process itself!
If you're the defendant in a criminal case, here are the answers to some of the most important questions you may have about the jury selection process:
1. What does it mean when your attorney requests a change of venue?
Sometimes, before jury selection even starts, a defense attorney may petition the court for a change of venue. This happens largely when a criminal case has attracted a lot of media attention and the nature of the crime carries a strong emotional impact that could affect the way potential jurors react. If your attorney believes that the media coverage of your case has "poisoned the pool" of potential jurors, he or she may try to have your case removed to another jurisdiction so you can get an unbiased jury.
2. What is the purpose of your attorney's questions to potential jurors?
Both the prosecution and the defense will get a chance to ask potential jurors a number of questions during the voir dire process. Essentially, your defense attorney is trying to root out jurors who carry conscious or subconscious prejudices that may weigh against you. He or she is also looking for signs that a potential juror may be sympathetic to your situation, for whatever reason. Since people generally won't admit to a prejudice outright, your attorney's questions may seem peculiar, but they're all designed to reveal hidden biases.
3. What can your attorney do to remove a biased juror?
Each jurisdiction has its own rules for how jury selection works, but both the defense and the prosecution have a certain number of peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges can be used without restriction. Basically, a potential juror can be "struck" from the pool for any reason and the attorney using the peremptory challenge doesn't have to justify the decision.
Because peremptory challenges are limited, your defense attorney will likely try to strike problematic jurors from the pool "for cause" instead. A challenge for cause must show a good reason to remove that juror. For example, maybe a juror has been the victim of an assault in the past, and you're on trial for assault. That would likely be a good cause to remove that potential juror to avoid the chance that his or her past experiences would color his or her decision on your case.
4. Is a jury consultant worth the expense?
Jury consultants are sometimes hired to help an attorney best evaluate the jury pool for hidden biases and sympathies. Their role is to investigate the jury pool and suss out who has prejudices that could help or hurt their client.
While jury consultants can be expensive, they also have experience and psychological training that can provide a significant advantage to their clients. If you have the money to afford a jury consultant and the stakes in your case are high (particularly if you're facing a lengthy sentence if you're convicted), it's worth it to give yourself every advantage possible going into trial.