The Most Important Constitutional Right for a Criminal Defendant

One of the most important constitutional right a person facing a criminal charge is their right to a jury trial. The OJ Simpson jury trial in the early 90’s captivated American society and showed Americans the importance of their right to a trial by jury. The Constitution guarantees a right to a trial by a jury of our peers in all criminal prosecutions from minor offenses to the most serious. The jury is charged with finding the facts of a case and after carefully reviewing the evidence they are responsible for deliberating and rendering a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If a jury is unable to reach a verdict, then it is deemed to be a hung jury, and the defendant may or may not be re-tried. So one may ask, how are jurors selected?

Jury selection happens in two parts. The first part is, essentially, random selection. The state, city  or federal district will randomly pull names off of lists that the state keeps in the regular course of business. These lists could include a list of registered voters, a list of people who hold driver’s licenses, or a list of people receiving unemployment benefits.

Once your name is pulled from one of these lists, you will receive a notice in the mail informing you of the date you have to go to court. The rules can vary by state, but unless you have some pressing reason to miss the first day of jury service, you generally have to go.

The second step is known as jury selection and/or “voir dire.” Voir Dire refers to the second stage of jury procedures, and is the process by which the court and the attorneys narrow down the pool of jurors to the 12 people (in a felony case) that will decide the case. If it is a misdemeanor than the number of jurors selected is usually six in most states. The process for voir dire varies from state to state, and even from judge to judge. Sometimes, if the juror pool is too large, the judge will randomly pick some people and excuse them from duty after questioning them regarding their ability to serve as a juror in a criminal trial.

Normally, however, the judge and attorneys will interview each juror about their backgrounds and beliefs. Sometimes this happens in front of the rest of the jury pool, sometimes this happens in private. Each attorney has the chance to object to jurors. There are two types of objections: “peremptory challenges” and “challenges for cause.” When an attorney challenges a juror for cause, there was most likely something in the juror’s background that would prejudice them in the case. For example, it is likely that an attorney would not allow a retired police officer to sit on a jury that decides a police brutality case. Many times, the attorneys will not let a prosecutor or a defense attorney sit on a jury for possible bias. In federal courts, each side has an unlimited number of challenges for cause. Attorneys do not need to give reasons for peremptory challenges, but each side only gets a limited number of these types of challenges. Of course, an attorney is not allowed to use peremptory challenges based on the race or gender of potential jurors.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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