Who Would Want Such a Thing?
You just received the letter in the mail informing you that you have jury duty next month. However, instead of groaning about it, you’re actually excited!
What kind of weirdo gets excited about jury duty?! Weirdos who have a strong sense of civic duty, that’s who.
If you will recall, we previously posted about How to Avoid Jury Duty, which was really just a sarcastic commentary about how important juries are in our society, but today we’ll discuss how jury selection actually works.
Selection vs. De-Selection
The first thing you need to know is that juries are picked by de-selection, rather than selection. What does that mean? It means that individual jurors are not chosen to be on the jury, instead, the jury panel is comprised of the people that weren’t challenged off of the panel. Sounds like a privilege, right?
It’s All About Voir Dire
During the first stage of jury duty, you will sit through voir dire. This is just a fancy French word for “speak the truth” and in Texas it is pronounced like “more wire”. This is where you sit with far more people than will be seated on the jury. At this stage, you are known as a “venire-person” because at this stage, you are sitting on the “venire-panel.” For a 12-person jury, it isn’t uncommon to have at least 40 people on the venire-panel.
The attorneys will be allowed to ask you questions at this stage. They are attempting to learn more about you as a citizen and to find out if you hold any personal views that might interfere with your ability to be fair and impartial. Basically, they are trying to see who holds a bias towards their client.
What is Bias?
Well if you are trying to get on a jury, then you do not want to be labeled as biased. For example, if you have a friend or family member that is a police officer, then you might believe that police officers are always truthful and give the testimony of a police officer extra credibility.
Perhaps your trial is a family law matter, and you believe that young children should always live with their mothers, then your views may be biased towards one side and against the other. There is nothing illegal about having a bias, it just means that this trial may not be the best one for you to sit on as a juror.
For example, if you have a bias for, or against, a police officer, then that wouldn’t matter in a custody dispute where no police officer is expected to testify. The important thing to remember is that you must tell the truth, even if it reveals that you may have a bias, because hiding a bias simply to get on a jury could cause an unfair result for one side.
Challenged for Cause
After all of the questions have been asked to the venire-panel, the attorneys will identify venire-persons to the Judge whom they believe have such a bias that would prevent them from serving as a fair and impartial juror. This is what’s known as a “challenge for cause.”
If you get called up to visit with the Judge, it could be that you gave an answer that made you appear to be biased. This isn’t the end of the world because it could have been an ambiguous question that you didn’t understand.
At this point, the Judge or one of the attorneys may attempt to “rehabilitate” you by asking more questions about whether your views are so strong that you are inclined toward one side or another. If you cannot be rehabilitated, then the Court must strike you from the panel.
Even if you do everything right, and aren’t stricken for “cause,” you may still be excluded from the jury. Each side gets a certain number of “peremptory challenges.” This means that they can strike members from the panel without having to provide any justification whatsoever.
So, even if your answers during voir dire don’t reveal any bias, you may not come across as a favorable juror for one side. As long as they do not use their peremptory challenge to exclude you because of your race, creed, religion, national origin, etc., then their challenge will stand.
Sitting in the Hot Seat
Your seating arrangement is important. The closer to the front you are seated, the more likely you are to be seated on the actual jury panel. As noted above, it is more about de-selection than selection. Therefore, if no venire-members were stricken for cause, and neither attorney used any peremptory challenge, then the first twelve venire-members will be seated on the jury panel.
Secrets to Getting on a Jury
Every time I conduct voir dire, the first thing I explain to them is the fastest way to get on a jury. The fastest way onto a jury is to remain quiet because then the attorneys do not have an opportunity to uncover any bias. I also explain that the fastest way to get out of jury duty is to speak up and answer every question that applies to them. As you can imagine, I usually get a lot of participation after explaining that.
Another secret to getting on a jury is to make sure you tell the attorney that you want to serve on the jury. Obviously, most people aren’t that excited about sitting on a jury panel, and attorneys know that an unhappy juror is more likely to be critical of their case. Therefore, if the attorney is trying to decide whether to use a peremptory challenge on you or someone else, he/she is more likely to strike someone that doesn’t want to be there.
Law Not Included
You’ll notice that this blog post is different from our usual posts because we haven’t included the laws that support our positions. The reason is because there is competing, but similar, laws for criminal and civil trials that we were afraid would be confusing if listed like we normally do. For more info, review Tex. R. Civ. Proc. 226, 227-236 & Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ch. 35.
–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Civil Litigation Division
1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479