Selecting the Jury

Length: 2717 words

When one comes across an episode of law-related television shows such as Boston Legal, The Practice, or Justice, one may notice a group of people seated on the side of the courtroom, near the judge. These people are the jury, and they are a significant part of the judiciary system. How does one become part of the jury, and what is the actual process that one has to go through to become a juror? What kinds of trials include a jury? Lastly, why are members of the jury concealed from other people during the duration of court hearings?

This research paper aims to answer all the aforementioned questions about the jury. In the United States, only federal and state courts utilize the services of a jury (Silverman, n. d. ). The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals function without juries. The initial step in jury selection is referred to as venire (Flowe, n. d. ). Federal and state courts that need juries find potential jurors by randomly choosing individuals from different sources; they do so from the lists of registered voters, lists of people with licenses for motor vehicles, as well as the databases for public utilities (“FAQs,” n. . ; Flowe,

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n. d. ; Silverman, n. d. ). This kind of selection is to guarantee that a “cross-section” of the population is represented in the decision-making process of the jury (Silverman, n. d. ). In fact, several Supreme Court cases emphasized the need for an unbiased jury (“Trial by Jury,” n. d. ).

In instances as such, the definition of an unbiased jury is that which consists of individuals which represent every possible segment of society. Potential jurors must not be disqualified or barred from serving jury duty on grounds of sex, race, or other factors (“Trial by Jury,” n. . ). The function of a representative jury is to provide a fair judgment, and that could not be achieved if the jury consists only of certain members of the community (Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U. S. 522, 1975, as cited in “Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). Jury selection also takes into consideration provisions provided by the state and the Constitution (“Jury,” 2007). Every state differs in the set of requirements one must have to become a juror. However, there are general qualifications for those who could be jurors, regardless of state.

Those who would be members of the jury must be citizens and local residents in the United States; they should also be “of majority age, of approved integrity, and of reasonable intelligence” (“Jury,” 2007). The list of jurors, whether in federal or state courts, is created with the supervision of what are called the “commissioners of jurors” (“Jury,” 2007). When the initial list of potential jurors has been made, the individuals on the list will then be summoned to appear in court (Silverman, n. d. ). These individuals will compose the panel, the term used to identify the people who were summoned for jury duty (Flowe, n. . ). Nonetheless, not all those who were summoned will be jurors (Silverman, n. d. ).

The second step in the jury selection process is referred to as the voir dire (Flowe, n. d. ; Silverman, n. d. ; Stoicheva, n. d. ). The phrase “voir dire” is of Anglo-French origin; it literally means “to speak the truth” (Stoicheva, n. d. ). This step is characterized by the selection of the final six to 12 people who would become part of the jury (Flowe, n. d). The objective of voir dire is to create a panel that is both fully represented as well as unprejudiced.

All those who were summoned would assemble at the court house to go through the process of voir dire (Stoicheva, n. d. ). The process begins with the court clerk drawing the names of the potential jurors (“Jury,” 2007). Then the jurors will be “questioned” by both the defense attorney and the prosecutor, as well the judge; this is to determine those who may not serve in the jury on grounds of bias or association (Flowe, n. d. ; “Jury,” 2007; Silverman, n. d. ; Stoicheva, n. d. ). This is done to maintain the fairness of the decision making process through the proper screening of those involved in that very process (“Jury,” 2007).

The usual topics that the attorneys or judge will ask to be discussed include personal background and experiences in life (Stoicheva, n. d. ). The potential jurors will also be examined through their opinions, as a way of ascertaining their capacity to objectively assess evidence. Those people who have committed crimes in the past, who have evident partiality or even connections with either party involved are restricted from becoming a member of the jury (Silverman, n. d. ). Any potential juror that is eliminated for the above reasons is disqualified from jury duty for cause (Flowe, n. d. ).

This may occur when the disqualified juror has exhibited bias in relation to the case of an attorney (Stoicheva, n. d. ). Moreover, attorneys also have several peremptory challenges; these give permission to the attorneys to disqualify several potential jurors for no particular reason (Flowe, n. d. ; Stoicheva, n. d. ). These challenges are primarily “hunches” of the attorneys in which they feel that a certain member of the jury may not be advantageous to their case (“Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). However, courts are aware that such privilege may be inappropriately used to eliminate jurors due to their gender or ethnicity.

As a result, the Supreme Court, among other courts, have created guidelines to prevent the abuse of such challenges (“Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). The people who have been cleared by both the defense and prosecution attorneys eventually become sworn in as jurors (Stoicheva, n. d. ). There are some instances, however, in which the judge is the one who conducts the voir dire. In the situation that a judge is in charge of the voir dire, he or she will be the one to accept the jurors to be sworn in (Stoicheva, n. d. ). Aside from the conventional voir dire, the process of selecting a jury also has a scientific aspect to it.

There is a scientific method in which one could determine the bias of a juror while in selection (Flowe, n. d. ). This procedure involves “jury selection consultants,” people who help attorneys in selecting the jury (Flowe, n. d. ). More often than not, it is the defense attorneys who seek the help of the consultants. These consultants also provide assistance in preparing the witnesses. Voir dire has three key objectives. First, it seeks to obtain as much information about the jurors. Second, it aims to develop rapport among the members of the jury and the attorneys.

Third, it intends to instruct the jurors about the case of both prosecution and defense. Prior to the selection of the jury, attorneys are already tasked to carefully and meticulously establish their case. When the consultants have been made aware of the case, they could then conduct surveys or organize focus groups; these are means to determine how certain characteristics are connected to reactions derived from the case. Consultants also interview jurors after the trial, as well as those people who were not able to become jurors after the voir dire.

All these endeavors would soon bear results that would link characteristics of individual jurors to their process of making decisions in court. In addition, these activities also allow the consultants to distinguish which potential jurors must be removed from becoming part of the jury in the succeeding cases (Flowe, n. d. ). According to several studies, the aforementioned scientific method of selecting juries is much more effective than the conventional jury selection process (Flowe, n. d. ). The scientific approach proved to be significant in capital cases, wherein the attitudes of the jurors are taken in consideration.

In one research wherein 35 capital trials where analyzed, it was discovered that there were less death sentences given by juries in which consultants were used as opposed to those with no consultants. In the 17 cases which received no assistance from jury selection consultants, the rate of those who proposed a death sentence was 61. 1 % (Flowe, n. d. ). On the other hand, in the 18 cases wherein the services of jury selection consultants were used, the rate of the death sentence recommendation from the jury was only 33. 3 % (Flowe, n. d. ). However, the scientific approach has a disadvantage.

When the attitudes of the jurors are not of much importance, this kind of jury selection becomes rather ineffective (Flowe, n. d. ). According to research, there was no distinction detected between the traditional way of selecting a jury and the scientific approach of jury selection. The only notable discrepancy is the connection between how the jurors’ vote and their personalities. It is also important to point out that the objective of jury selection is never really fulfilled. This is because it is unlikely that a juror will be completely unbiased.

Panels are also not assured of true representation, as not everybody is summoned for jury duty. Only certain members of the population get to serve as jurors. Lastly, the skill of the attorneys also contributes in the outcome of the case. The process of voir dire gives the attorneys involved much power (Stoicheva, n. d. ). An attorney will surely pick out jurors that could help him further his case (Flowe, n. d. ). In the instance that one attorney is better in picking out jurors than the other; the result will obviously be unjust (Flowe, n. d. ). There are three kinds of jury in the United States (Stoicheva, n. d. ).

These are the civil petit jury, the criminal petit jury and the grand jury. In the United States Constitution, all three are present in the federal courts. All the states also have all three juries (Stoicheva, n. d. ). The grand jury system differs from the petit jury system. To begin with, the main role of the grand jury is to assess evidence showed by the prosecutor, after which, the grand jury will decide if there exists a “probable cause to return an indictment” (“FAQs,” n. d. ). Because the only task of the grand jury is to identify probable cause, it does not require the presentation of all evidence, even conflicting ones.

It depends on the prosecutor if he or she will present it. In the history of the grand jury, its initial objective was to establish a link between the citizens and the king. This function was of safeguarding purposes, which no longer exists today. At present, the grand jury serves to be the prosecutor’s “rubber stamp” (“FAQs,” n. d. ). In addition, a grand jury has a term (“FAQs,” n. d. ). In most cases, the federal courts have grand juries with a month-long term, in which they come to court for five days in a week.

However, there are instances wherein grand juries with a longer term are needed, in such cases as corruption in politics or organized crime. In such cases, the grand jury will come to court less than five times a week, but their term may range from six months to three years (“FAQs,” n. d. ). The process of jury selection in grand juries is similar to other juries, with minor modifications. To begin with, members of the grand jury are also taken from the same group as those of other juries (“FAQs,” n. d. ). This group is again composed of people whose names were derived from same databases as other juries.

The main difference, however, lies in the voir dire. As opposed to the jurors in the other trials, the members of the grand jury do not undergo the voir dire. They are not questioned on account of existing biases or other factors that would seem inappropriate in the decision making process (“FAQs,” n. d. ). A petit jury, on the other hand, is composed of those who sit on regular trials. Also known as a trail jury, this type of jury involves twelve people who were rendered acceptable for jury duty as determined by the voir dire (Letric Law Library, n. d. ; Silverman, n. d. ).

These people are then tasked to assess the facts presented to them and to make reasonable judgment with regard to the given facts. The petit jury is responsible for handing out the verdict, the term used to refer to the judgment (Letric Law Library, n. d. ). An essential difference between the grand jury and the petit jury is the number of jurors involved. On one hand, grand juries consist of 16 to 23 individuals (Silverman, n. d. ).

On the other hand, the petit jury consists of six to 12 jurors if the trial is for a civil case; for a criminal trial, 12 jurors are included in the panel (Silverman, n. . ). The issue of how many jurors are supposed to serve on a panel used to be considered as definite. Initially, it was upheld that juries must be composed of 12 people, and must decide on a verdict unanimously (“Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). Nonetheless, the Supreme Court later determined through several cases that 12 is not so important a number in the decision making process. In 1970, the service of juries with only six members was allowed in state cases which are criminal in nature.

The Supreme Court reasoned that such a small number can still properly function as a jury, on grounds that a jury with six members can still represent various groups of the population (Williams v. Florida, 399 U. S. 78, 1970, as cited in “Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). In addition, that size could already encourage careful deliberation (Williams v. Florida, 399 U. S. 78, 1970, as cited in “Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). In grave cases of criminal nature, trial by jury is assured by the Sixth Amendment as implied in the United States Constitution (“Trial by Jury,” n. d. ).

It is stated that in every criminal case, the defendant has the right to a quick trial that is open to the public, a trial by a jury that is just and unbiased (Sixth Amendment as cited in “Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). Majority of the civil cases are also tried by a jury, and this is assured by the Seventh Amendment. Trial by jury is also implied and included in many state constitutions (“Trial by Jury,” n. d. ). Petit juries usually serve in criminal and civil cases (Stoicheva, n. d. ). Most of the time, such cases in the United States had been already settled prior to the trial.

Those cases that indeed proceed to trial may not be subject to trial by jury. For example, the accused may choose not to be tried by a jury; he or she can decide to have a bench trial instead, where a judge, rather than a jury, can try him. Also, in civil cases, the involved parties may both decide to have a bench trial instead. One’s right to trial by jury may therefore be waived. Trial by jury can also occur depending on the given conditions: it can happen in a civil case when one party decides it would work to their advantage; it could also occur if the criminal defendant considers it beneficial to his case.

Nonetheless, the right to jury trial is influential enough to affect even those cases which were settled and have never gone to trial (Stoicheva, n. d. ). Lastly, it is a known fact that jurors are concealed and kept in unknown place while in the middle of court proceedings. The members of the jury are also prohibited to speak to anyone. The reason behind such secrecy is the protection of the jurors, as well as the assurance that the outcome will be unaffected by external factors. According to the American Bar Association, such concealment was initially created to secure the jurors from pressures from the outside (“FAQs,” n. d. ).

Such set-up allows the jurors to deliberate freely and not be restrained or encouraged by outside elements. This also enables the jurors to make decisions or judgments without justification (Stoicheva, n. d. ). After jury duty has been finished, the jurors would then go back to their private lives (Stoicheva, n. d. ). Indeed, the process of selecting the jury is a tedious but careful process. It is only proper that a jury be decided upon with such thoroughness, as these are the people who play a key role in serving justice. If the process is not characterized by careful consideration, the jury would not be able to serve their function well.

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