Every Orange County criminal attorney who tries cases knows that a case is won or lost as a result of jury selection. Selecting a jury is the most important part of the criminal jury trial process and many inexperienced attorneys don’t strategize and plan for this critical part of the process.
In Orange County, criminal jury trial judges usually only give each side 15-30 minutes to question the potential jurors who are initially called into the jury box. Obviously, this is not much time to try to figure out who the best jurors would be, so it is crucial to be strategic in your questioning and selection, keeping in mind the nature of the felony or misdemeanor charges your client is fighting.
Get Your Client Involved
Before the prospective jurors come into the courtroom, have a detailed conversation with the client and stress the importance of his first impression. Explain the need to appear professionally dressed and the importance of good posture during the trial. As soon as the prospective jurors hear that they are there for a criminal case, ALL eyes immediately focus on the client, and judgments are immediately being made. If the client gets a dirty look from someone or doesn’t feel comfortable with a particular person, instruct him to take note of that person and let you know so you can decide if you should exercise a peremptory challenge on that person. Although it can be uncomfortable, it’s imperative to try to look for those jurors who stare down the client and display body language that conveys they clearly don’t like your client. If that happens, excuse that juror.
Don’t Waste Time on the Obvious
The judge will begin questioning the jurors first, and will usually ask each juror for their basic information: occupation, marital status, spouse’s occupation, ties to law enforcement, prior jury service, and if they have ever been a victim of a crime. Depending on the answers to this basic questioning, you can tell if certain jurors have a poor attitude and clearly don’t want to sit on the jury. For those who fall into this category, plan on excusing them and DON’T waste any of your limited time asking them follow up questions.
Sometimes the trial judge will go more in depth and cover important concepts such as Reasonable Doubt and the Presumption of Innocence, Credibility of Witnesses, and other case specific areas depending on the nature of the charges. Again, listen for those jurors who are clearly biased and don’t waste your time questioning them unless a “for cause” challenge can be developed through additional questioning.
Connect With the Jurors and Convey Your Theme
One of the most important things an attorney can do when picking a jury is connect with the jurors. Don’t talk like a lawyer when you are trying to get to know the potential jurors in the limited amount of time you have. Talk to them as if you are one of them. Good trial attorneys try to throw in a couple questions that also are prefaced with a little personal information about the attorney. For example, when asking questions about the importance of witness credibility, the attorney may first mention he or she has children and it’s hard to figure out who is telling the truth after a sibling fight. Then, follow up with questions about how a juror figures out who is telling the truth when conflicting stories are being told. Remember, you need to come across like one of them in order to get them to open up to you so you can determine if they would be a could juror for your case. Also, depending on the theme of your case, try to ask questions that give the jury insight into the defense you are going to present (i.e., for a mistaken identity defense ask how they would feel if they were accused of something they didn’t do).
Some attorneys do NOT want to do a criminal jury trial, and often times bring in associate counsel to try the case. If you find yourself in this position, do not hesitate to hire an experienced criminal jury trial attorney to assist you. For more information on jury trial assistance in Orange County, California, contact the Kenney Legal Defense Corporation at (855) 505-5588.