If you are currently facing criminal charges in the State of Nebraska, one of the most important decisions you will make during the prosecution of your case is whether or not to take your case to trial. If you do decide to proceed to trial, you will then need to decide whether to allow a judge or a jury to decide your fate at trial. You have a Constitutional right to a trial by a jury of your peers; however, what exactly does that mean? Who are your “peers” and how are they selected? Before you can decide if you want a jury to decide your fate, it is a good idea to know the answer to these questions. With that in mind, an Omaha criminal defense lawyer explains how a jury is selected.
Your Constitutional Right to a Trial by Jury
Your right to a trial by jury is found in the Sixth 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 defence.” (Emphasis added)
Who Are Your “Peers” for Purposes of Selecting a Jury?
Although the Constitution guarantees you the right to a trial by jury, it doesn’t actually promise to be a jury of your peers, contrary to popular belief. Nonetheless, the idea behind a jury trial is that people from the community will decide your fate instead of a judge. In the State of Nebraska, prospective jury members are selected at random from a county voter registration, state I. D., or driver’s license list. A group of names is selected from these lists and a jury summons sent to each person in the group notifying them that they are required to appear on the date and time indicated on the summons.
Omaha Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains Voir Dire – Selecting a Jury
The actual process of selecting a jury begins on the date of your trial. Some courts will ask the prospective jury members to fill out a questionnaire ahead of time to be given to the prosecution and defense. Other courts will ask that a questionnaire be field out on the morning of the trial. The questionnaire will have basic questions on it about the individual’s background as well as questions aimed at determining if the individual has an obvious conflict or bias. A small group of the prospective jurors will be brought into the court room to begin the process known as voir dire.
During voir dire, the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and sometimes the judge will ask questions of the prospective jurors in an effort to get to know them. For the prosecution and the defense, the purpose of this is to decide if they want the individual on the jury or not. If it appears that there is a legal reason why someone should not serve, such as bias or a previous knowledge of the case, a challenge for cause can be made by either side. If the judge agrees, that individual is excused from serving. There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause that can be made. In addition, each side has a limited number of “peremptory challenges” that can be made to excuse a prospective juror from serving on the jury. The number depends on the level of offense being tried. Peremptory challenges do not require a justification nor explanation. As long as a peremptory challenge is not made for a discriminatory reason, it can be used for any reason. As prospective jurors are excused, additional people are brought in to fill their spots. Once both sides have used up all of their peremptory challenges the individuals remaining become the final jury.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense lawyer right away to discuss what defenses might be available to you. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.