Understanding the Law
February 4, 2005
Jury selection or de-selection?

This week you have heard quite a lot about the jury selection for the Michael Jackson case and I thought you would like to have a few insights into the process, not the case, so that you could understand how it works. The process is called a voir dire (pronounced vwa dear) meaning to speak the truth. In this process jurors are examined to determine their ability to give justice to the defendant. Jurors are picked from a jury pool that is obtained from citizens within the jurisdiction of the court. {{more}}

In California, 12 jurors and 8 alternates are chosen from a pool of jurors. Alternates are jurors who follow the trial but are not included in deliberation unless a jury member is unable to continue for some reason. You would remember the Scott Peterson case when a few jurors including the foreman had to be replaced by alternates. One woman was dismissed and replaced because she did some research on the Internet with respect to the case. In the Michael Jackson case jury selection will take place for a period of one month. The trial itself will take place over a period of 6 months. Cases do not take as long in SVG. A murder trial might last an average of two weeks.

The proceedings are held before the judge, the prosecutor and the defence attorney in the presence of the defendant. It allows the court to eliminate partisans. These are persons who strongly support or are connected to one side or the other. It allows both sides to challenge jurors for biases, familiarity with facts or witnesses. The two sides at this time attempt ‘to stack’ the jury, that is to get those who are good for their side and to reject the ones who they believe are bad for their side. The ability to choose a favourable jury requires great skills on the part of the trial lawyer.

At the sessions there could be general questions asked of the entire pool of prospective jurors where they can answer by a show of hands or verbal answers. In the first part of the exercise, jurors are required to give their reasons why they cannot or do not wish to sit on the case. Those who are not excused will fill out a questionnaire and will be individually interviewed. The attorneys on both sides would question the prospective jurors about their background, life experience and opinions to determine whether they can weigh the evidence fairly and objectively. The attorney can challenge for cause, that is, he can give a reason why a person should not sit on a case. For example, the defence lawyer could refuse to have a relative of the accused sit on the case or someone who sat on the grand jury. Both sides have a peremptory challenge that is the ability to refuse someone without giving a reason. The whole exercise will end when twelve jurors and eight alternates are chosen to listen to the evidence put forward in the case. Only twelve will actually decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.