For a defendant in a criminal case, one of the most important decisions is whether or not to take the case to trial by jury. If you are currently facing criminal charges, and you are considering this very question, it is imperative that you understand how a jury trial works before you make your decision. You should also discuss the specific facts and circumstances of your case with your Tennessee criminal defense attorney at length before deciding how to resolve your case. One of the most important aspects of a jury trial is what is referred to in legal terms as “voir dire.” In layman terms, it refers to picking the jury. In a jury trial, the jurors will decide your fate. With that in mind, you need to understand what happens during the questioning of the prospective jurors and exactly how to pick a jury.
Who Are the Prospective Jurors?
When the court is notified of a jury trial, the clerk’s office is also notified. A random list of names is then generated from the state’s driver’s license records. Those people are sent a summons ordering them to appear for jury duty on the date and time specified on the summons. These people make up the prospective jury pool, though only a small fraction of them will actually make it onto the final jury.
Questioning the Prospective Jurors
On the trial day, the State and the defense will convene in the courtroom. Some courts require prospective jurors to fill out a juror questionnaire ahead of time while some require the questionnaire be filled out on the morning of the trial. Likewise, in some cases the prosecution and defense will have access to those questionnaires ahead of time while in others they will only see them minutes before voir dire begins. The questionnaires typically ask basic questions such as the person’s occupation, education, and other general information. It also asks if the individual knows anyone involved in the case and other questions intended to determine if the person is disqualified for cause. A disqualification for cause means there is a legal reason why the prospective juror cannot serve on the jury.
The bailiff will bring in an initial group of prospective jurors once court begins. Sometimes the judge will ask them questions before the attorneys while in other courts the judge says very little. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney may then ask questions of the jurors. The purpose of the questions is twofold. First, the questions are intended to illicit information that would amount to a disqualification for cause, such as bias or previous knowledge of the facts of the case. The second reason is for both sides to get a feel for the individual in an effort to decide if they want the individual to remain on the jury. It is for this reason that you might hear apparently irrelevant questions such as “What is the last book you read?” or “What is your favorite movie?” These questions tell an experienced attorney much more about a person than most people realize. The answers to these questions are used to decide who to excuse using “peremptory challenges.” Each side has a set number of peremptory challenges, depending on the level of offense being tried. A peremptory challenge may be used to excuse a juror for any reason the attorney wishes, except for a discriminatory reason. As prospective jurors are excused, other are brought in and the questioning continues until both sides have used up their challenges. At that point, the people who remain in the courtroom make up the final jury. It is important for you to know that as the defendant, you have every right to consult with your defense attorney and offer your opinion regarding prospective jurors as well.
If you are currently facing criminal charges in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced criminal lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.