Jury duty—everyone has heard the term, but not many people understand the lengthy process that goes into selecting a jury for trial. First, potential jurors must meet basic qualifications; then, they must answer a series of questions from prosecutors and defense attorneys. If a candidate makes it through this process, he or she will be sworn in as a juror.
The jury selection process begins with a “venire”—a random selection of potential jurors. Then, through a process called “voir dire,” the trial judge and the attorneys begin their questioning of the candidates. The judge will ask questions to ensure the candidates are legally qualified to serve and that serving on the jury will not cause them undue hardship. To be a juror, you must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen, reside in the court’s jurisdiction and have the right to vote.
After the judge’s questioning, the attorneys take their turns. The defense and the prosecution will ask potential jurors about their personal backgrounds and biases, as well as what, if anything, they know about the case at hand. Essentially, the attorneys try to ascertain whether a candidate might favor the defense or the prosecution—though they may not ask the candidate outright how they would vote in the jury room.
A candidate may be struck from the jury panel for a number of reasons during the jury selection process. To be excused from jury duty “for cause” means that a candidate either did not meet the basic qualifications or demonstrated bias, whether actual or implied. A candidate who admits outright that they would not be able to be impartial shows actual bias; a candidate whose character traits or background makes it unlikely for them to be impartial demonstrates implied bias. There is no limit to the number of candidates who may be eliminated “for cause.”
Both the prosecution and the defense attorneys also have a limited number of peremptory challenges, which allow them to strike potential jurors from the panel simply because they feel those candidates may favor the other side.