A look at the jury selection process

If you’ve ever been called for jury service, you probably know that it can be very boring -- sitting in the jury room waiting most of the day, being filed into a courtroom like sheep being herded, then listening to a judge or attorney ask you all sorts of questions, some of them a little personal. Some jurors get excused because they cannot serve. Then, the attorneys stare at you and whisper with their clients, and a piece of paper is handed back and forth from attorney to attorney. Some jurors are excused, and then the first twelve remaining in your group are the jury. The rest of you go back to the jury room or to another courtroom to repeat the process.

Let me give you my inside perspective on the Jury Selection Process as an attorney trying the case. Jury Selection, also referred to as Voir Dire, is not really Jury Selection. Instead, it’s Jury Elimination. The system seeks to eliminate jurors who cannot serve for some legitimate reason, like health issues, job or family conflicts or because it is determined that particular jurors have fixed opinions so that they cannot be fair and impartial. These jurors are eliminated from the panel “for cause” because the parties to the case could not have a fair trial if those jurors were forced to serve.

In addition to ‘for cause” challenges, the Jury Selection/Elimination system allows the attorneys to have four peremptory challenges which they can use to eliminate jurors who they feel would not be favorable to their side of the case.

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The way the Jury Selection system works in Pennsylvania depends on the particular county and judge, but, usually, the attorneys submit Voir Dire questions to the judge before trial. Under the law, the attorneys are absolutely entitled to know certain information about each juror such as: date and place of birth; residence location; marital status; education, occupation and employment history of juror and family; prior involvement in a civil lawsuit or criminal case; relationship with anyone in the insurance business; and relationship with any lawyer, party or witness in the case.

The attorneys are also allowed to propose more specific questions to find out any other pertinent information regarding the particular case so that they can obtain a competent, fair and impartial jury.

In my practice representing clients in Personal Injury cases, this means asking questions to find out whether people have opinions regarding lawsuits, lawyers, injured people who sue, the type of money that is awarded in lawsuits (like money for pain and suffering), and whether the jurors can agree to be fair to my client and follow the law regarding compensation to be awarded in an injury case. If there are jurors on the panel who cannot follow the law because of their own personal beliefs, I need to find them and eliminate them.

During Jury Selection, the judge or attorneys will ask the questions of the whole jury panel, and sometimes the jurors will be questioned individually. After the questioning, the attorneys will ask for certain jurors to be struck “for cause.” Then, they alternate their four peremptory strikes. I would go first as Plaintiff’s attorney, striking one juror and then defense counsel would strike one. Then we would go back and forth for our four strikes. The first twelve remaining jurors would sit on the jury.

Jury Selection/Elimination is critically important to get a fair and impartial jury and a trial that would result in justice. When I pick a jury, or more accurately eliminate certain jurors, the purpose is to make sure that the jurors remaining do not have some bias or prejudice against injured people or lawsuits and, instead, that they can be fair and impartial and follow the law. Without asking the jurors these questions, and them being honest about any preconceived notions that would make them biased in favor of either side, it is impossible to have a fair and impartial jury. So, I get that Jury Selection is boring, but trust me, it’s important!

Tim Rayne is a partner in the full-service law firm of MacElree Harvey, Ltd. which has 33 attorneys in offices located in Kennett Square and West Chester, PA and Centreville, DE. Tim focuses his law practice in Personal Injury and Civil Litigation law, primarily helping people who have been injured in accidents deal with insurance companies. Tim can be reached at 610.840.0124 or trayne@macelree.com. For more News and Information on Personal Injury law, check out Tim’s website at www.timraynelaw.com.