Jury selection happens at the very beginning of a criminal trial and is a crucial part of the process that has a major impact on the outcome. As the finder of fact, the jury will decide what pieces of evidence and testimony are credible and will deliver its verdict based on what it determines the facts of the case to be. Of course, no human being is perfectly objective, and each member of the jury comes with his or her own background that influences his or her perception of credibility. The task of an effective defense attorney is to aim for the inclusion of jurors able to be fair to the defendant and to challenge any improper actions on the prosecution’s part.
While in a federal case most parts of the selection process are conducted by the judge, in a Texas state court it is up to the lawyers to question potential jurors to determine if a challenge is in order. This questioning process is also called “voir dire.”
Challenge for cause
One type of challenge is challenge for cause, when an attorney challenges the inclusion of a potential juror on the ground that this person cannot legally serve on the jury. Typically, this means the juror’s responses to questioning indicate that he or she is likely to be prejudiced against or towards one side. This bias can stem from and manifest through a variety of factors. For example, in a case where the defendant is accused of having mugged someone, a recent mugging victim may have difficulty being impartial.
In addition to for-cause challenges, each side is entitled to a number of peremptory challenges. In Texas, attorneys on a misdemeanor case get three challenges while in a felony case each side gets 10. Unlike a challenge for cause, a peremptory challenge does not have to be backed by reasoning from the attorney. The only impermissible grounds for a peremptory challenge are those considered discriminatory. Thus, an attorney cannot ask a juror to be excluded based on his or her race, for example. It is typically up to the opposing side to object to a discriminatory challenge and explain why it is actually discriminatory.
Objections to any part of the jury selection process need to be made right away; attorneys will not be allowed to argue these issues at a later point in the trial. If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to retain an experienced attorney who knows how to handle each stage of the trial process.