Does my lawyer really get to “select” my jury before a trial?
I often have clients ask me before trial whether I will be able to “select” their jury. This question usually stems from the phrase we hear often on television and elsewhere pertaining to “jury selection.”
In reality, no attorney is able to hand pick jurors that he wants for his client’s case. This would be completely contrary to our jury system, which requires a fair and impartial jury in order for justice to be done.
Rather, during “jury selection” attorneys for both parties ask potential jurors questions to determine whether they have preconceived biases for or against either party. The reason lawyers ask these questions is so they can be absolutely certain that the people who are ultimately chosen to sit in judgment of their clients are open-minded and will judge the case based only on the facts and evidence that is presented, without preconceived bias and prejudice creeping into their deliberations.
During the “jury selection” process, the court and the lawyers will listen to the potential jurors’ responses to questions and determine which potential jurors tend to favor one side or the other before the case begins. If a potential juror is unable to set preconceived thoughts and feelings for or against one party or the other aside, they will not be able to sit on the jury. Just because someone is determined to be unsuitable for a particular case does not mean they are an unfair person, but rather underscores the fact that as human beings, we are all different and bring with us different beliefs and experiences into different situations. In order for the process to work, potential jurors take an oath to be completely honest when answering questions.
For example, a person who believes doctors can do no wrong would not be a fair juror in a civil medical malpractice case due to their preconceived bias for doctors, but might very well be a very fair and suitable juror for a criminal case.
If you are chosen as a potential juror, keep in mind the goal of jury selection is to make sure that each party will be able to rest easy knowing that the facts, evidence and the law will determine the outcome of a particular case; rather than preconceived biases the jury holds for or against either party. So, if you get a summons for jury selection, be honest! You are not going to hurt anyone’s feelings in the court room by offering up your beliefs and opinions. Candor is necessary for the process to work.
If you are a Plaintiff in a personal injury case, be sure your lawyer has thoroughly reviewed your case to make sure that any potentially inflammatory issues are brought before potential jurors and that your lawyer has prior experience screening jury panels. It will make a big difference in determining whether justice gets done.