Picking a jury may be the single most important aspect of a DWI case
Many DUI lawyers believe that jury selection is the single most important part of the trial. This is because, no matter how good of a case you present and no matter how badly the prosecutor screws it up, if you have a jury loaded with people who are biased against anybody who drinks and drives, then the defense will have an uphill battle.
The purpose of jury selection in DUI cases is to get as fair of a jury as possible. Lawyers are trained to say that they are looking for fair and impartial jurors, but secretly, deep down, every lawyer who is not a liar and cares about his or her case and client is looking for jurors who, while being fair, will have a leaning or predisposition towards siding with them.
The number of jurors who hear a DUI case varies from state to state, and also varies between misdemeanors and felonies. More serious felonies typically get more jurors than do basic misdemeanors. Local custom and the predictions of the parties as to how long the trial might take typically determine whether alternate jurors will be seated, and if so, how many.
The method of jury selection depends on the court.
As a starting point, must DUI cases are not serious enough for the court clerk to provide attorneys with lists of potential jurors in advance of the trial date. So the use of jury consultants is somewhat limited in most cases to what actually happens in court.
Typically, just before the jury is brought into the courtroom, both parties are handed a juror master list and short bio information sheets that the jurors filled out. The attorneys must then quickly synthesize this information as the jury is being brought in and seated.
The number of potential jurors brought in to chose from depends on the case, the court, and the number of peremptory challenges that are available to each side. A peremptory challenge is the ability of either the prosecutor or DUI defense lawyer to remove a juror from the pool for any race-neutral reason. The attorney need not typically give a reason for the “strike” unless the reason is challenged as being motivated by a prohibited factor, such as race. This is typically called a Batson challenge.
One the jurors are seated and roll is called, questioning begins. Usually the jurors are made to give brief background facts on themselves, confirm that they live in the court’s jurisdiction and confirm whether they have ever served as a juror before.
Then, depending on the court, either the attorneys or the judge will start asking the jurors questions. From their answers to these questions, the parties must determine which jurors to keep, which to strike using a peremptory challenge, and which jurors to challenge for cause.
A challenge for cause means that the prosecutor or defense lawyer asks the judge to exclude a juror because that juror has shown that he or she can not be fair and impartial. The judge may also do this on his or her own motion.
Some courts prefer that all jurors get questioned at once, and only once all questions are answered do the parties exercise their challenged. Other courts use a method called “strike and replace” in which only jurors who are actually in the jury box are questioned. When one is removed, the next juror takes the removed juror’s place and can then be questioned. This continues until all parties run out of strikes or the jury is satisfactory to all.
Once the jury is finalized, they are empaneled and sworn in.
Typically, in cases involving alternate jurors, the identity of who is an alternate will not determined until after the case is done. This is so that all jurors will pay attention because they won’t know until later who will be called on to deliberate. In other courts, the alternates are designed at the beginning, and then step into seated jurors places as those jurors are eliminated or excused during the trial.