DECODED: The Mechanics of a Jury Trial

by Jordan Lebovitz | November 12th, 2013

PART 1 – JURY SELECTION

Some people cherish jury duty as an exercise of their civic duty. Others just dread the thought. While the citizens of Cuyahoga County may gravitate (or run) towards either side of this spectrum, it is essential to understand how being picked as a juror in Cuyahoga County is different from what we see on TV.

Here’s the reality, it is not nearly as exciting, fast-paced or chaotic as TV makes it seem. You won’t see protestors waving signs in your face, or television crews asking what just happened. Instead, you will be faced with only one suspenseful task: finding parking.

After arriving at the Justice Center, you will first be brought to one of the 44 courtrooms (or walked across the street to the old courthouse) in groups of roughly 25-50 potential jurors. This group of potential jurors is called the “venire.” If you hear one of the bailiffs, judges, or lawyers use this term just know that it means the jury pool, or the group of people who may be selected for that cases jury.

After being shuffled into the courtroom by the Judge’s bailiff, you will be seated in an order pre-generated by your juror number. You may ask, “Why do I have to sit in an assigned seat?” The reason is because the judge and the lawyers for both sides need to know who they are speaking to instead of asking for, or forgetting, your name multiple times.

Now is one of the most important, if not the most important, parts of the trial. In both civil and criminal jury trials, you are the ultimate decision-maker. It is the jury’s duty and role to be fair, honest and competent. Some cases take nearly five years before going to trial! It is because of the jury’s immense power that lawyers, judges, and, most importantly, their clients find jury selection to be the critical step in solving their problem.

The first step in selecting a jury is typically a two-part process known as the “Voir Dire.” First, the Judge will ask each of the potential jurors a few basic questions: where are you from, what do you do for a living, and have you ever served as a juror before today? These, along with other similar questions, are not asked to be nosy or to pry into your personal life. The Judge is simply giving the lawyers, and their clients, some background information on who may decide their case.

Isn’t this when Gene Hackman and his crew of 20 employees do background searches on me, follow me around town, and snoop through my garbage? Although Runaway Jury is a fantastic film, it vastly exaggerates how the jury selection process works. More importantly, it’s a crime to stalk you and/or snoop through your garbage.

After the Judge finishes his/her questioning, the lawyers for each side will typically be allowed to ask potential jurors questions. Unlike the Judge’s questions, the lawyers may ask about obscure, seemingly unimportant, things: did you bring any reading material today, what type of cell phone do you have, or do you have any cousins that work for the Cleveland Clinic? Remember, although the questions may seem strange, they are only meant to give the lawyer a better understanding of what type of person you are.

Now you’ve been sitting for what seems like forever and you are asking, “Am I on the jury or not?” Trust me, you will find out very soon. After both sides have asked you questions, it is time to actually select who will be on the jury. This is not like being picked for the football team; rather, the Constitution, specifically the 7th Amendment, only allows the lawyers to remove potential jurors rather than add them to their roster. Each side has the opportunity to remove 3 potential jurors for any non-discriminatory reason they like. This is called a “peremptory challenge.” Being removed from the jury should not offend you. It does not mean that you would not be a good juror. Sometimes the lawyers just think that this is not the right case for you.

If the lawyers are finished using their challenges and you are still sitting in the jury box…congratulations! You are now part of the jury and will be instructed what you can and cannot do for the duration of the trial. Yes, that means you probably cannot post photos to Instagram of a selfie with the Judge. Yes, that also means you cannot Tweet who you think should win. But it does mean that you get to be a part of a special process that has protected Americans for hundreds of years. You are now a juror.

Authored by Attorney Jordan D. Lebovitz