If you’ve ever received a jury duty request in the mail, you probably know the feeling of being called to potentially serve on a jury when you may have other things to do. Now imagine what it must feel like for the litigants, knowing that at least some of the people being tasked with determining the outcome of their case would rather be anywhere else and doing anything else. It is the job of a skilled criminal defense attorney to identify the jurors who may be favorable to their client’s case and who will be open to persuasion during the trial.
Jury selection is done in open court so that the parties to the case can see who will be deciding their fates. For anyone who has been charged with a crime in New Jersey, it is important to understand exactly how the jury selection process works. After all, you do not want to be caught off guard by anything that happens in the courtroom either before or during the trial.
How Jury Selection Works in New Jersey
Criminal cases involving felony-level charges are typically heard before a jury in the county superior court. (Cases involving lesser offenses, ordinarily classified as disorderly persons offenses or municipal ordinance violations, are heard in front of a judge in a local municipal court.) One exception to the jury requirement is when the defendant waives their right to a jury trial, but the waiver must be approved by both the judge and the prosecutor.
The Assignment Judge at the county courthouse summons a large group of people for jury service. This group is known as the jury panel, and the total number of individuals on the jury panel is determined by the trial judges at the county courthouse and the Jury Management Office. As jurors are needed throughout the day, members of the jury panel will be selected at random and sent to various courtrooms.
Questioning the Jurors during Voir Dire
In most criminal cases, a jury consists of 12 persons. However, a total of 14 jurors are selected for the jury so that there will still be enough jurors to render a verdict in the event that alternates are required.
The 14 jurors will be chosen on the basis of their answers to certain questions asked by the judge. The jurors will be given a short statement that describes both the case and the parties involved. The jurors will then be questioned by the judge while sitting in the jury box. This is known as the voir dire process. The goal of the questions asked during voir dire is to determine whether the jurors are qualified to fairly and impartially render a verdict. At certain points, the parties or their attorneys may also ask questions of the jurors.
Juror Challenges in NJ Criminal Trials
In some instances, the prosecutor or the defense attorney can challenge a juror for cause. For instance, a juror who may have had prior dealings with one of the parties or witnesses in the case may be challenged for cause. The judge will then decide whether that juror should be excused prior to being selected for the jury.
Additionally, the prosecutor or the defense attorney can file peremptory challenge of a juror without needing to give any reason for excusing the juror. In most criminal actions, the defendant will get 10 peremptory challenges. In cases involving charges for a violent crime, such as murder, aggravated assault, or robbery, the defendant will get 20 peremptory challenges.
If you have been charged with a crime in Atlantic County, NJ, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side throughout the legal process. The experienced, aggressive criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John W. Tumelty know how the legal system works in Atlantic County and can help you fight your criminal charges. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.