At the beginning of every civil jury trial, the lawyers have the opportunity to question all of the prospective jurors as a preliminary step to selecting individuals who will actually sit to decide the case. Twelve jurors are selected in state court cases. We believe it important for our clients to understand the purpose, goal and strategy of jury selection. It is during the jury selection process that the jury panel gets its first impression of both the client and the lawyers.
There are two primary goals in jury selection. The first goal is to eliminate potential jurors who should be excused “for cause.” A juror may be excused for cause for something as simple as knowing one of the parties or for expressing direct or indirect bias by virtue of either past experiences or opinions. Past experiences may include being involved in prior litigation, particularly if the claims are similar in nature to the case being heard. Examples of biased opinions include expressed beliefs that there are too many lawyers, too many lawsuits, too much money awarded in lawsuits and general contempt or dissatisfaction with the legal system. It is important for all clients to understand that a primary purpose of jury selection is to make sure that people who cannot be fair are removed from the jury panel. Therefore, your lawyer should raise all kinds of difficult issues in front of the jury panel.
You might think that your case would be better off if difficult issues were ignored during jury selection. To the contrary, it is extremely important that all issues which may potentially affect a juror are brought up for public discussion in the courtroom, so that you are reasonably confident that an impartial and fair jury will hear your case.
The second goal in jury selection is to allow your lawyer to make educated strikes of potential jurors. In each state court case tried, the plaintiff and the defendant each have the opportunity to strike three jurors from the assembled group, commonly referred to as the jury panel. The process of exercising what are called “preemptory challenges” is directed to the first 18 jurors who have survived the initial qualification stage. Each side is allowed three strikes —the panel of 18 jurors is reduced to 12.
During the jury selection process, lawyers ask any number of questions aimed at learning as much as possible about each individual juror. This gathering of information leads to reasonable decisions being made as to which potential jurors to strike from the panel. At times, it is easy and evident as to which jurors to strike. In other cases, the parties have to depend on instinct and nuance in order to make good decisions. Clients can help by paying close attention to all of the questions and answers, because often clients develop reactions to potential jurors that can be helpful in the final decision making process.
Do not be surprised if your lawyer introduces some of your difficult evidentiary issues during the jury selection process. If your case has a particular problem, it is always best to get that matter out in the open and to gauge how jurors react to it. If your lawyer is introducing some of the issues in your case which are the most problematic for you, he or she is doing his or her job. Hopefully, you have been candid with your lawyer during the pre-trial process and all issues, positive and negative, are well known to you and your lawyer. Then, constructive jury selection questions can be developed which will allow your lawyer to introduce areas of concern in a manner that puts forth your position on the issues as well as granting an opportunity to uncover individual juror reactions. This is important information to gather so that preemptory challenges can be exercised.
During the selection process, your lawyer and opposing counsel will garner much of the attention of the potential jurors, but you, as the client, can also play an integral role. You will be seated at the counsel table and should pay close attention to the proceedings. Feel free to express to your attorney any thoughts. You should also remember that at the same time your attorney is examining potential jurors, those jurors are examining you. Make eye contact with the potential jurors as they respond to questions. Be interested and present an aura of openness and involvement. Jury selection is your first opportunity to engage with jurors. Seize the opportunity.
Gary Growe, Senior Partner
Growe Eisen Karlan