If you are currently facing charges for a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, you will eventually have to decide how you wish to resolve your case. In most cases that means you must decide whether to accept a guilty plea agreement offered by the State or take your case to trial. If you decide to go to trial, you will need to make yet another decision – whether to let a judge or a jury decide your fate. If you have never been a defendant in a criminal prosecution you likely have a number of questions about the jury trial process you would like answered before deciding how you wish to proceed. If you exercise your right to a trial by jury, the members of that jury will essentially hold your future in their hands. With that in mind, you may be wondering how criminal defense attorneys select the members of a jury.
Your Right to a Trial by Jury
Your right to a trial by jury is found in the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows:
In all criminal prosecutions, 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, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. (Emphasis added)
Like other rights you possess, you may choose to exercise your right to a trial by jury or you may waive that right. Deciding whether or not to take a case to jury trial is a decision which should only be made after careful deliberation and consultation with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney.
How Are Potential Jury Members Selected?
In the State of Nebraska, a jury will consist of either 6 or 12 people, depending on the level of the offense. More serious offenses will have a 12-member jury while less serious offenses are made up of a jury of just 6 people, along with an alternate juror. When the court is notified that a jury trial is taking place, prospective jurors are summoned by the county after being randomly selected from a county voter registration, state I. D., or driver’s license list. The people summoned are collectively referred to as the “jury pool.”
Picking the Jury – The “Voir Dire” Process
The process of picking a final jury (formally known as “voir dire”) begins on the day of trial when an initial group of people are called into the courtroom from the jury pool. The judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney may then question the prospective jurors. Questioning prospective jurors is somewhat of an art form because an attorney does not have much time with any one person. Therefore, a good criminal defense attorney must learn to read body language and interpret answers given by people to determine if they would be sympathetic to his/her client.
Both the prosecution and the defense may excuse people for “cause,” meaning there is a legal reason why the person cannot serve on the jury. Each side is also allowed a specific number of “peremptory challenges.” These allow either side to strike prospective jurors for any reason (other than discriminatory reasons). Sometimes, a criminal defense attorney will strike a prospective juror based on nothing more than a feeling the person would not be an asset to their side. As the defendant, you also have input into selecting the jury, considering the final group of people will decide your fate. As prospective jurors are excused, replacements are brought in and the questioning continues until each side is out of peremptory challenges. The group of people remaining at that point makes up the final jury.
If you are currently facing criminal charges in the State of Nebraska, it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away. In Nebraska contact the criminal defense attorneys at Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.
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