What should you expect as a juror during jury selection in a civil case? Although different states, and even different counties within each state, adhere to local rules and procedures, a juror can still understand the general process. The juror may even understand why he or she was not selected to serve in a certain trial.
Hurry up and Wait!
As a juror, you will be notified when to arrive at the courthouse. Make sure to arrive on time, and make sure you know how to get to the courthouse. Large jurisdictions, like my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, have multiple Circuit and District courtrooms, while small towns will have just one or two courtrooms to handle all matters.
On your first day, the jury administrator may show you a video to help you understand the jury trial process. Then you will wait to be assigned to a courtroom needing jurors for a trial. Understand that the attorneys will start sizing up jurors as soon as they walk into the courtroom. I practiced as a trial attorney for eight years, and I can give you one piece of advice if you want to be picked for a trial. Bring a book with you. Many attorneys love jurors who bring books
Mechanics of Jury Selection
Once a juror panel is assigned to a courtroom, expect the judge to greet the group and ask a few basic questions. The judge may share a few facts about the case (such as whether the case involves a car accident or slip and fall) to help the jurors understand what they will be doing if selected, but she will keep details to a minimum. The case is not supposed to be tried during jury selection. In some jurisdictions, the judge conducts jury selection, but in the vast majority of states, the attorneys conduct the questioning.
Understand that during jury selection the attorneys will ask a wide variety questions to the panel as a whole, following up with individual jurors when necessary. This process is also called voir dire (Latin for “to see or speak”), pronounced either as “vor dyer” or “vwah deer,” depending on your area of the country. You have now learned your Latin for the day.
The judge and the attorneys will tell you that the process is designed towards seating fair and impartial jurors. However, understand that the plaintiff wants jurors who are already plaintiff-oriented. The same goes for the defense.
A plaintiff may want a jury filled with teachers, union members and nurses, or people who hate insurance companies. A defendant may aim for a jury teeming with farmers and other small business owners, or people who dislike personal injury lawsuits. Attorneys may dream about their perfect juries, but understand that the real objective of jury selection is to identify and strike people the lawyers do not want on the jury.
Plaintiff attorneys may ask, “Who thinks people file too many lawsuits?” or, “Who thinks there should be caps on things like pain and suffering?” A defense attorney in a civil trial may ask the jury panel, “Who is inclined to award something to the Plaintiff merely because he has filed a complaint?” or “Who assumes the Plaintiff is injured merely because he is here asking for money?” The attorneys will strike jurors answering these questions in the affirmative.
Understand that attorneys will follow up on particularly damaging answers (briefly) to confirm who they want to strike, and on more sympathetic answers (less briefly) to socialize the jury into nodding their heads and agreeing with the sympathetic answer. If a juror feels a particular answer is too embarrassing to give in front of the group, most judges will understand and let the juror speak to him in private. Jury selection lasts until the attorneys run out of questions or until the judge decides to bring the process to an end.
What the Jurors Don’t See
After the jurors are excused for a break, the court gives counsel time to argue for certain strikes. Strikes for cause are granted against jurors who have indicated, either directly or indirectly, that they cannot control their biases against one of the parties.
For example, a judge may strike a juror for cause for stating in voir dire that , “I don’t think people should sue for pain and suffering. I would not award it, regardless of the evidence.” Understand that this decision rests in the discretion of the judge. If the judge does not feel the juror’s statement warrants a strike for cause, the objecting attorney’s only remedy is to use a peremptory strike.
Understand that peremptory strikes can be used for virtually any reason (but not for characteristics like gender and race). Maybe a juror was slumped down while the attorney was talking. Maybe the juror was poorly groomed and wore dirty clothes. Attorneys understand that virtually any reason will be sufficient.
The judge provides the attorneys with a certain number of peremptory strikes. If the number of jurors needs to be lessened further, the judge may even resort to picking numbers out of a basket (judges in Louisville do this when the attorneys both strike the same juror). The people who survived the jury selection process will hear the trial.