Jury Selection Process in Criminal Trials
The United States Constitution (6th & 14th Amendments) guarantees a right to a trial by a jury of your peers in criminal prosecutions. The jury is charged with finding the facts of the case after reviewing the evidence and then decides if the defendant is guilty or not.
Prospective jurors are picked randomly, typically from a list of registered voters, licensed drivers, or a list of people receiving unemployment benefits. You will be notified via mail if you are selected for jury duty. In North Carolina, potential jurors are selected from a master jury list of county residents who have driver’s license records and/or are registered voters.
Once you report for jury duty, you will be vetted by the attorneys. The process of vetting jurors is called voir dire, which means to speak the truth. Voir dire is used to decide if a juror is biased and/or cannot consider the issues of the case fairly, or if there is a reason a juror cannot serve, such as knowing the parties, witnesses, or attorneys. The process for voir dire varies from state to state.
Voir dire may take place in front of the entire jury pool, or privately. Prospective jurors may be questioned about their backgrounds, education, occupation, beliefs, or anything thing else which is relevant to ensure an unbiased jury. The prosecutor and defense attorney each have the opportunity to object to a prospective juror. There are two types of objections, a peremptory challenge and a for cause challenge.
A peremptory challenge means an attorney can strike a prospective juror for any reason without providing the reason to the court for the objection. Although attorneys have a lot of latitude with their peremptory challenges, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that peremptory challenges cannot be used to strike prospective jurors because of race (Batson v. Kentucky, 1986) or gender (J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel T.B., 1994).
A challenge for cause occurs when an attorney eliminates a prospective juror because there is something in the juror’s background which would prejudice them in the case. For example, in a case where the defendant has been charged with, among other things, vehicular manslaughter, you may be dismissed as a juror for that specific trial if you were once the victim of a crash caused by a drunk driver. A potential juror in a homicide trial may be dismissed because he/she knew someone who was murdered. Challenges for cause are used to eliminate those who show an obvious bias and cannot be impartial.
In federal courts, each party has unlimited challenges for cause, but each side only gets a limited number of peremptory challenges. The court may allow additional peremptory challenges to multiple defendants and may allow the defendants to exercise those challenges separately or jointly. In death penalty cases, each side has 20 peremptory challenges. In other felony cases, the prosecution has 6 peremptory challenges and the defendant—or defendants jointly—has 10 peremptory challenges when the defendant is charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment of more than one year. Each side has 3 peremptory challenges in a misdemeanor case wherein the defendant is charged with a crime punishable by fine, imprisonment of one year or less, or both (Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Title VI, Rule 24).
Each party in a state criminal case is allowed 6 peremptory challenges and an unlimited number of challenges for cause, which can only be granted by a judge where it is established that a juror cannot be fair to both sides. In capital cases, each defendant is allowed 14 challenges and the State is allowed 14 challenges for each defendant (N.C.G.S § 15A-1217).
Eligibility to Serve
You must be a citizen of North Carolina and a resident of the county where you were summoned to be eligible to serve on a jury in North Carolina. Additionally, you must be at least 18 years old; not have served as a juror during the previous two years; be physically and mentally competent and able to understand English; and you must not be a convicted felon.
A summons for jury duty is an official court summons. Failure to report could mean the court could hold you in contempt and/or impose a fine. If you are unable to serve, you may ask a District Court judge to defer your service to a date which is more convenient. You may also ask to be excused if you have a medical reason which prevents your service, if you have served as a juror within the past two years, or you are otherwise ineligible to serve.
Jurors are paid $12 for the first day of service and $20 a day thereafter. If you serve more than five days, you will receive $40 per day; grand jurors receive $20 per day.
It is against the law for an employer to fire or demote you because of your service as a juror. However, the law does not require that you be paid in full while serving (www.nccourts.org).