What makes up a jury?

Posted by Michael E. Lyons | Dec 11, 2019 | 0 Comments

“I've been called for jury duty—now what?!”

If you've ever seen the television show 30 Rock, you may remember the episode where Liz Lemon gets called for jury duty and acts crazy so that she isn't picked to be a juror. She dresses up like Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise and says she is a hologram and can read thoughts. Like most people, Liz was dreading jury service. But it's really not that bad.

What makes up a jury in a civilian court?

(Note: A military court is the military equivalent of a jury, but it follows slightly different selection procedures. For information regarding the selection process for the panel of members in a military court, check out this blog: An Overview of How Military Juries are Selected.)

Why do we have juries in the first place?

The fundamental reason that we have juries is because our Constitution affords people the opportunity to be judged by their peers. For criminal trials, the Fifth Amendment provides that “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.”

In civil trials, the Seventh Amendment gives parties the opportunity for a trial if the damages exceed $20 and the claim involved is a legal one, as opposed to an equitable claim. An example of a legal claim is for medical malpractice, where the plaintiff is seeking damages for his or her out of pocket medical costs. An example of an equitable claim is one for continuous trespassing, where the plaintiff is trying to get a court to stop the trespassing, rather than seeking any kind of money damages for it.

Selecting the Venire

The people who are called for jury selection make up the venire. Usually, the venire needs to be representative of the community, meaning that the potential jurors should reflect a wide range of ages, occupations, races, and genders, among other factors. This helps ensure that there are less biases among potential jury members, which in turn helps make sure that the trial is fair and equitable.

The Voir Dire

Another part of the jury selection process is the voir dire. The voir dire process helps ensure that there are as little biases as possible among the jury members. During this process, the judge or attorneys ask the members of the venire a series of questions to find out if any of them have biases that should prevent them from serving on the jury.

For example, in a medical malpractice case, the defendant's attorney may ask if any of the potential jurors have ever initiated a medical malpractice lawsuit before. This helps the defendant's attorney find out which venire members he or she may want to challenge because the member(s) may be more sympathetic to the plaintiff.

A lot of strategy goes into making sure the right questions are asked and the right jurors are chosen. The questions not only help the attorneys decide who they don't want to serve on the jury, but it also helps them decide who they do want to serve on the jury. In the medical malpractice example, the plaintiff's attorney would probably like for a venire member that may already be sympathetic to the plaintiff based on that juror's similar past.

Challenging Jurors

If an attorney decides that he or she does not want a venire member to be a juror, the attorney has two options for challenging the member. The attorney can either use a peremptory challenge or may be able to challenge the venire member for cause.

With a peremptory challenge, the attorney does not need a reason for rejecting the venire member. However, an attorney cannot exercise a peremptory challenge based on something like a prospective juror's gender or race. Such reasons are unconstitutional. If the opposing attorney believes that the other attorney is discriminating based on race or gender, he or she can contest the opposing attorney's use of peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges can be incredibly useful for a case, but they are not limitless. Depending on the type of case involved, each side will have a certain number of peremptory challenges that they can use. Therefore, the attorneys have to choose wisely when to exercise those peremptory challenges.

Unlike peremptory challenges, which are limited in quantity, an attorney has an unlimited amount of challenges for cause. For a challenge for cause to be successful, the attorney must have a legitimate reason for excluding the venire member. For example, the member could have expressed a bias mentioned in the medical malpractice example or maybe the member personally knows one of the parties or one of the attorneys in the case which would prevent him or her from being completely impartial. Like peremptory challenges, the opposing attorney can object to a challenge for cause.

The attorneys at Patriots Law Group have extensive experience in litigation. If you are wondering what the best jury strategy is for your case, call us for help today!

DISCLAIMER:  The information above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice for any particular situation.  No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information and may not be relied upon based on the above-statements.  Each individual situation is different and therefore a consultation is necessary before any advice can be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for your situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice concerning your situation.

About the Author

Michael E. Lyons

“As a veteran, I bring my core values of service, integrity, and excellence to every client, every case, every time.” Background: Michael E. Lyons (“Mike”) handles cases in Maryland and Washington D.C. fr...


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