How Does Jury Selection Work In A Texas Criminal Trial?
Texas criminal defendants have a Constitutional right to a speedy and public trial before a jury of their peers. The Sixth Amendment makes this one of the most fundamental and well-recognized rights in the Bill of Rights. The right to a jury trial was pushed by the Founders in response to harsh, unfair trials by British colonizers in which a defendant’s guilt was often preordained. The American jury system brings in members of a defendant’s community to listen fairly and impartially to evidence presented by both sides to a case.
Those charged with a crime know about the right to a jury, but might wonder: just how does a defendant end up in front of a “jury of their peers” in Texas? The process begins with the mailing of “pre-registration” letters in counties such as Harris County, where a pool of prospective jurors is assembled through responses that are mailed to adults throughout the community. Lately, the process has been modernized through the use of email, online forms, and phone methods of registration. County officials throughout Texas continue to seek new ways, meanwhile, to make sure diversity in jury pools remains consistent with diversity in the population. This has been a notable struggle, unfortunately.
Jury Selection at Trial
When a trial begins, a pool of jurors are brought into the courtroom to make their appearances. (Failure to appear when summoned can result in fines of $100 to $500 and an order of “attachment” to have the juror located and brought into court.)
Chapter 35 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure sets out the steps involved in selection of the jury. Jurors are initially asked basic questions such as their names, occupations, and general backgrounds. Through this questioning process – also known as voir dire – jurors are asked additional questions to determine their suitability for service in the jury. This often includes follow-up questions about a juror’s background, beliefs, and potential biases.
Either side – prosecution or defense – may challenge a prospective juror for cause if they believe the individual may have a bias toward one side or another. A potential juror that states he is a retired police officer who has put hundreds of people behind bars, for example, may be challenged by the defense attorney and removed from the panel. Similarly, prosecutors may move to strike jurors that state strong feelings against law enforcement or the prison system.
Attorneys for either side are also allowed “peremptory challenges” – this means they can challenge and move to strike a juror without having to explain a reason. The amount of peremptory challenges each side gets can vary depending on the nature of the trial and size of the jury.
One notable exception to peremptory challenges is that attorneys can’t strike a juror from the panel for race-based reasons. In Batson v. Kentucky, a landmark 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause bars prosecutors from dismissing jurors because they share the same race or ethnicity as the defendant. This was – sadly but not surprisingly – a huge problem throughout many decades of U.S. criminal trials. To some extent, it remains an issue requiring continued vigilance.
Batson means prosecutors can’t dismiss jurors for obviously race-related reasons, but it doesn’t prevent discrimination entirely. Justice Thurgood Marshall’s concurrence in the Batson opinion noted that peremptory challenges still permit discrimination as long as it is not blatant. It takes an attentive defense attorney to bring notice to challenges that are supposedly made for some other reason when race is the more logical motive.
The goal of jury selection is to provide a fair and impartial jury panel for both the State and the Defense to make their case. Neither side wants the jury to be tilted one way or another from the start of the trial, and it is especially critical for the defendant – whose liberty is at stake – to have a fair and open-minded jury of their peers.
Our Pearland, Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Will Fight to Make Sure Your Case is Tried Before an Impartial Jury
If your case goes to a jury, you want that jury to be ready to listen to your arguments with an open mind. Ideally, this will be a true jury of peers that includes people sharing similar backgrounds as you. Our Pearland criminal lawyers at Keith B. French Law recognize the critical importance of the jury selection process in a defendant’s right to a fair trial. To learn more about your legal rights and defense strategy, contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC online or call 832-243-6153 today.