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How does jury selection affect a criminal trial?

In Indiana, as throughout the United States, if the government charges you with a crime, you have the right to a jury trial. The jurors are supposed to be “impartial,” but what does that mean? How can you guarantee the jurors are impartial?

The truth is that you can’t guarantee an impartial jury. This was recently made clear by the news of an Indiana juror who lied about her experience with domestic violence. But your attorney can work toward selecting a better and more impartial jury.

Heres how the jury selection process works in Indiana

Before we dive into the jury selection process, it’s important to remember that your right to a jury trial is important enough that the Founding Fathers wrote it into the Constitution. It’s enshrined in the Sixth Amendment, which reads:

“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[.]”

Your right to a jury trial is meant to protect you from government overreach. If a judge, representing the government, were to try you, you would have little defense from any government bias. But when you can hold your trial before a jury of your peers, they serve as a line of defense between you and the government’s argument.

That’s why it’s important to understand the work that courts and lawyers do to select impartial jurors:

  • The court randomly pulls names from several lists approved by the Supreme Court to identify potential jurors. These potential jurors receive a summons to jury duty.
  • The court may disqualify some jurors and excuse others for things like former felonies, mental impairment, recent jury service and extreme hardship.
  • A judge introduces a panel of potential jurors to the nature of the case, the presumption of innocence and the standards of proof required. The attorneys on either side might also present brief statements.
  • The attorneys on either side may then ask the judge to dismiss any number of potential jurors “for cause.” The attorneys do this when they have cause to believe the jurors may hold a bias.
  • The attorneys on either side may then make a set number of “peremptory challenges.” These allow the attorneys to dismiss potential jurors for nearly any reason—with the goal of eliminating jurors whom they feel might not serve their client’s best interests.
  • After this, the judge swears in the jury, and the trial begins.

As the case of the lying juror shows, the process isn’t perfect, but it is important. In fact, the impartial jury is a fundamental right. The Founding Fathers believed you deserved an impartial jury of your peers, or you wouldn’t see real justice. That’s why the juror’s lies—after they disrupted the formation of an impartial jury—forced a retrial of the case.

Random jurors are a start, but not the whole story

Indiana used to draw its jury pools solely from the lists of registered voters, but that meant the jury panels didn’t reflect the larger population. More recently, Indiana courts have drawn upon additional lists from other government agencies to create more inclusive and diverse jury panels. This is a good start toward ensuring your jury is one of your peers.

However, as the attorneys at Kammen & Moudy know, you want to use the jury selection process carefully and intentionally. You don’t want to allow biased jurors to cast their votes in favor of your guilt. You want jurors willing to hear your case based on the facts and evidence. You want jurors ready to weigh the evidence against the standards set by the law. That’s why our attorneys work hard and use all their skill to ensure the jurors they select will truly offer fair and impartial justice.

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