Jury selection is one of the most important parts of any criminal case. Criminal defense lawyers fight to include jurors who will not automatically assume the police officer is credible and that the State or government witnesses must be telling the truth. The Judge instructs the jury that any reasonable doubt means they must vote to acquit a defendant.
The Tennessee jury selection rule
Tennessee Criminal Rule 24 sets forth the criteria for jury selection. Both the defense and prosecution can object to some jurors for any valid reason, called preemptory challenges. The reason can be because the juror is wearing a three-piece suit or looks at his hands when questioned. Any reason, except for racial discrimination, is valid for preemptory challenges.
Each side only gets a handful of preemptory challenges. The state or government and defense counsel can object to a juror if there is cause, such as a clear reason to believe the juror has a bias or cannot honestly and fairly decide a criminal case. The presiding judge decides whether there is cause to refuse to seat a juror.
The judge starts the selection process by asking the jurors to swear or affirm the answers to the questions will be honest. The judge then briefly introduces the parties, their counsel, and explains what the case is about.
The judge, the criminal defense lawyer, and the prosecutor then have the right to ask the jurors questions about their ability to serve.
Challenges for cause
A judge can dismiss a juror for cause on his/her own. The parties to the criminal offense case can request (challenge) the right of a juror to serve on any legal ground. A common challenge issue is whether the juror admits to any prior knowledge or exposure to information about the case. Some jurors may have knowledge of a part of the case. This knowledge may cause the juror to feel he/she may not be able to decide the case fairly even if contrary evidence is introduced.
The decision to remove a juror based on prior information is not automatic. The judge will inquire about the “degree of exposure,” and the juror’s “state of mind.” Part of the decision to excuse or keep a juror with prior knowledge depends on how believable the juror is when asked whether the knowledge will affect the ability to fairly listen.
To insure some degree of fairness, Tennessee requires that the lawyers for both sides submit preemptory challenges in writing at the same time. Neither the defense nor prosecution shall be made aware of the other side’s preemptory challenges before the submission is made. The judge keeps track of the number of preemptory challenges each side makes. The juror who is challenged is not informed which side challenged his/her selection.
The judge has the right to empanel jurors in addition the normal set of 12 jurors, or alternate jurors. This is usually to protect against the possibility one of the original 12 jurors cannot serve for any reason. Additional preemptory challenges may be allowed for these additional jurors.
Before and during the trial, the judge will admonish the jurors about how communications among jurors should not take place, that any opinions about the case should wait until the case is formally submitted to the jury, and other matters that could affect the ability to decide the case fairly.
Nashville criminal defense lawyer Perry A. Craft understands how critical the jury selection process is. Our firm works to exclude jurors who can hurt your ability to be treated fairly. For help with every part of your criminal charges, please call the Law Office of Perry A. Craft at 615-953-3808, or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.