Broward criminal attorney William Moore knows that a lot of the mythology surrounding jury trials is deserved — and trying them is part art and part science. Jury selection is complicated and the decision to strike a potential juror from a panel could be for any number of reasons, such as the occupation of a juror’s spouse, his comments on where he gets his news, or a host of others. What it may not be based upon, however, is a discriminatory reason. For example, a female defendant accused of battering her ex-boyfriend might think she would rather have a jury full of women. (After all, she would say, they would understand how infuriating the deadbeat was!) However, striking prospective jurors on the basis of their race or sex is absolutely forbidden, notes Fort Lauderdale criminal lawyer Moore.
Residents who receive a jury summons in their mailboxes often complain, frequently because they are missing work and assume jury duty is boring — which is not to say that waiting, sometimes for hours, to find out if you will be selected for a jury is fun. Some cases get reset for various reasons; others may end in plea agreements or finalized settlements on the morning that the trial was scheduled. Many prospective jurors also envision jury duty as what they have seen on television, which is often not representative. Anyone who followed the recent Casey Anthony trial (or who was a fan of John Grisham’s The Runaway Jury) knows that it is possible for a jury to be sequestered.
Sequestering a jury is the tough decision to cut jurors off from the outside world in order to insure the integrity of the verdict. In these exceedingly rare cases, jurors stay at a hotel at taxpayer expense, and are shepherded between the courthouse and the hotel by bus or other means of transportation. The judge will instruct the jurors as to whom they are allowed to speak to and see, such as family members, and will explain that they are not permitted to discuss the case. Access to news, such as newspapers and television, may be curtailed in an effort to avoid tainting jurors’ opinions — or adding additional facts to their knowledge, when such evidence has been ruled inadmissible in the courtroom, such as hearsay accounts of what occurred.
The right to a trial by jury is enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “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 . . . .” The jurors are selected locally. Impartiality is tested by asking the potential jurors a number of questioned designed to see if they would favor one side over the other or have difficulty remaining unbiased. For example, a mother who lost her child in a drunk driving accident would likely be excused from serving as a juror on a DUI trial, because her own personal feelings regarding DUI would be too likely to cloud her judgment as it related to the facts at hand.