One of the most important rights you have as an accused in a criminal prosecution is your right to a trial by jury, guaranteed to you in the 6th Amendment to the U.S Constitution. Like all of your rights, your right to a trial by jury is your right to exercise or to waive. If you decide to exercise your right to a trial by jury, part of the jury trial process will include questioning prospective jurors, formally known as “voir dire.” To help you better understand what happens during a jury trial, an Omaha criminal defense lawyer at Petersen Criminal Defense Law explains voir dire.
Who Are the Prospective Jurors?
In Nebraska, a criminal jury trial consists of six or 12 jury members, depending on the severity level of the charges involved. When the court is notified that a defendant wishes to have the case decided by jury trial, the clerk’s office is also notified. A random list of names is then generated from the county voter registration, state I. D., or driver’s license records. Those people are sent a summons ordering them to appear for jury duty on the date and time specified on the summons. These people make up the prospective jury pool, though only a small fraction of them will actually make it onto the final jury.
Voir Dire — Questioning the Prospective Jurors
Some courts require prospective jurors to fill out a juror questionnaire ahead of time while some require the questionnaire be filled out on the morning of the trial. Likewise, in some cases, the prosecution and defense will have access to those questionnaires ahead of time while in others they will only see them minutes before voir dire begins. The questionnaires typically ask basic questions such as the person’s occupation, education, and other general information. It also asks if the individual knows anyone involved in the case and other questions intended to determine if the person is disqualified for cause. A disqualification for cause means there is a legal reason why the prospective juror cannot serve on the jury.
The bailiff will bring in an initial group of prospective jurors in once court begins. Sometimes the judge will ask them questions before the attorneys while in other courts the judge says very little. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney may then ask questions of the jurors. The purpose of the questions is twofold. First, the questions are intended to elicit information that would amount to a disqualification for cause, such as bias or previous knowledge of the facts of the case. The second reason is for both sides to get a feel for the individual in an effort to decide if they want the individual to remain on the jury. It is for this reason that you might hear apparently irrelevant questions such as “What is the last book you read?” or “What is your favorite movie?” These questions tell an experienced attorney much more about a person than most people realize. The answers to these questions are used to decide who to excuse using “peremptory challenges.” Each side has a set number of peremptory challenges, depending on the level of offense being tried. A peremptory challenge may be used to excuse a juror for any reason the attorney wishes, except for a discriminatory reason. As prospective jurors are excused, others are brought in and the questioning continues until both sides have used up their challenges. At that point, the people who remain in the courtroom make up the final jury. It is important for you to know that as the defendant, you have every right to consult with your defense attorney and offer your opinion regarding prospective jurors as well.
Contact an Omaha Criminal Defense Lawyer at Petersen Criminal Defense Law
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, it is always in your best interest to consult directly with an experienced Omaha criminal defense lawyer about the specific facts and circumstances of your case. Contact the Omaha criminal defense lawyers at Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-909-0346 to discuss your case with an experienced DUI defense lawyer.