As a defendant in a criminal prosecution you (in consultation with your attorney) will need to make many important decisions. Among the most crucial of those is the decision to take your case to trial and allow a jury to decide your fate. Before making that decision, you should have a firm understanding of what a jury trial entails. Toward that end, a Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what you need to know about a trial by jury in Tennessee.
Your Constitutional Right to a Trial by Jury
The U.S. Constitution guarantees every defendant certain rights and privileges, most of which are enumerated in the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the “Bill of Rights.” Your right to a trial by jury can be found in the 6th Amendment, reading as follows:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Who Will Be on My Jury?
As a defendant, one of the most pressing things you probably want to know is who will be on the jury that decides your case. You won’t know exactly who your jurors are until the day of trial; however, it may help to know how prospective jurors are identified and how the process of selecting jurors works. To be qualified to serve as a juror in Rutherford County, for example, you must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be a United States citizen and a resident of the county in which you are summoned.
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Have been a resident of Rutherford County for at least 12 months.
- Have not served as a juror in the previous twenty-four (24) months.
- Have not been convicted of perjury, subornation of perjury, a felony, or any infamous offense.
Once the Clerk’s office is notified that a defendant has requested a trial by jury, a list of names will be randomly selected from a master computer generated list of persons with driver’s licenses. Those randomly selected citizens are sent a summons telling them when and where they are ordered to appear. The next step in arriving at a final jury is known as “voir dire.”
Typically, prospective jurors will be asked to fill out a juror questionnaire. The questionnaires ask basic questions such as the person’s occupation, education, and whether the person knows anyone involved in the case. The process of “voir dire,” questioning the prospective jurors, then begins.
The judge, prosecuting attorney, and defense attorney may all ask the prospective jurors questions. The questions are intended to elicit information that would form the basis of a disqualification for cause, meaning there is a legal reason why the prospective juror cannot serve on the jury. Bias or previous knowledge of the facts of the case are reasons a prospective juror could be disqualified for cause. The same questions are used by both sides to get a feel for the individual so they can decide if they want the person to remain on the jury. These questions can seem random, such as “Who is your favorite author or actor?” but the answers are used to decide who to excuse using “peremptory challenges.” Each side gets eight peremptory challenges in a felony trial by jury. These peremptory challenges can be used to excuse a juror for any reason, except for a discriminatory reason. As prospective jurors are excused, others are brought in and the questioning continues until both sides have used up their challenges. The 12 people (plus an alternate usually) who are left make up the jury.
Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you were recently charged with a criminal offense, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.