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Jury Selection

Jury selection is the process of choosing jurors. Not all people are required to serve on the jury: Some individuals and members of some occupational groups may be excused if serving would cause them or their family hardship. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment merely requires that jurors be selected from a list that does not exclude any identifiable segment of the community (Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 95 S. Ct. 692, 42 L. Ed. 2d 690 [1975]).

Federal courts select grand and petit juries according to the guidelines in the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968 (28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1861–78 [2000]). Generally, most communities use voter-registration lists to choose prospective jurors, who are then summoned to appear for jury duty. This group of prospective jurors is called a venire.

Once the venire is assembled, attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense begin a process called VOIR DIRE. Literally meaning "to speak the truth," voir dire is a preliminary examination of the prospective jurors, in order to inquire into their competence and suitability to sit on the jury. Although the judge may ask questions, it is primarily the attorneys who do so. Their goal is to eliminate jurors who may be biased against their side, while choosing the jurors who are most likely to be sympathetic. Attorneys for each side are allowed to reject potential jurors in two ways. They may dismiss anyone for cause, meaning a reason that is relevant to that person's ability and fitness to perform jury duty. And they may issue a limited number of peremptory challenges, which are dismissals that do not require a reason.

The process of voir dire—especially in the exercise of peremptory challenges to custom design a jury—has provoked controversy. Defendants may challenge a venire, alleging discrimination, but such complaints are difficult to prove. Thus, critics of the selection process have argued that it skews the composition of juries according to race, class, and gender. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court held that juries need not represent a cross section of a community, but merely must be drawn from a pool that is representative of the community (Holland v. Illinois, 493 U.S. 474, 110 S. Ct. 803, 107 L. Ed. 2d 905). In 1991, it forbade prosecutors to use their peremptory challenges to exclude potential jurors on the basis of race (Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 111 S. Ct. 1364, 113 L. Ed. 2d 411). In 1999, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that prospective jurors could not be dismissed solely on account of their religious beliefs, except when those beliefs would keep them from performing their duties on the jury (State v. Hodge, 726 A.2d 531 [Conn. 1999]). Along with other complaints—on issues ranging from efficiency to fairness—the decisions provided advocates of jury reform with further ammunition for their efforts to change fundamentally, and even to eliminate, juries.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Jokes to Robert Marion La FolletteJury - History, Minnesota's Approach To A More Diverse Jury Pool, Should The Peremptory Challenge Be Abolished?