Jury Selection and Voir Dire in Georgia
Jury Selection and Voir Dire in Georgia
Jury selection, also known as voir dire, is one of the most important parts of a jury trial in Georgia. Voir dire is French for “to speak the truth” and it refers to the process where attorneys and judges question potential jurors to determine if they are suitable to serve on a jury for a particular case.
Overview of Jury Selection in Georgia
In Georgia, both civil and criminal cases have the right to a jury trial. The jury selection process aims to seat 12 impartial jurors, plus alternates if needed. Georgia law provides guidelines on conducting voir dire and selecting jurors.
Here’s an overview of how jury selection works in Georgia:
- Potential jurors are summoned for jury duty based on voter registration and driver’s license lists.
- The court requests a panel of prospective jurors to be sent to the courtroom from the jury assembly room.
- The judge introduces the case and lawyers, thanks jurors for their service.
- Prospective jurors are required to swear an oath to truthfully answer questions about their qualifications.
- The judge and lawyers ask questions to reveal any biases or reasons a juror can’t be fair and impartial.
- Lawyers can request to excuse biased jurors using challenges “for cause” or “peremptory.”
- Questioning continues until 12 qualified jurors are seated.
- The judge administers the jury oath and reminds them to only consider evidence presented at trial.
Voir Dire Questioning
The voir dire questioning allows attorneys to get to know the jurors and look for biases. According to Georgia law, attorneys have the right to individually examine each prospective juror without needing to raise any challenges yet.
Typical topics covered in voir dire questions include:
- Personal background – occupation, education, family, prior jury service
- Knowledge of the case or parties involved
- Opinions about relevant issues, people and entities involved
- Ability to follow certain laws or legal principles
- Views on types of evidence that may be presented
- Bias for or against law enforcement, corporations, etc.
- Hardships or scheduling conflicts with trial
- Language barriers or trouble understanding legal concepts
Attorneys want to “educate the jury about the parties’ respective theories of the case” and “develop a rapport with, and earn the trust and respect of, the jury” during voir dire. But the main goal is uncovering jurors who may be unfair or unable to apply the law so they can be excused.
Challenges: Strikes for Cause vs. Peremptory Strikes
Strikes for Cause: Jurors struck for cause are excused due to a specific legally defined reason that prevents them from serving, such as:
- Bias or prejudice for or against a party that impairs impartiality
- Physical illness, deafness, or other incapacity
- Felony conviction, lack of citizenship, illiteracy
- Previous service on a jury for the same case
- Relationship by blood or marriage to a party in the case
There is no limit on how many jurors can be struck for cause. Attorneys must explain their reasoning and the judge decides whether to grant the request to strike.
Peremptory Strikes: Each side has a limited number of peremptory strikes they can use to excuse jurors without needing to provide a reason. These allow attorneys to use their discretion to strike jurors they feel are unfavorable even if it’s not a clear legal cause.
The number of peremptory strikes allotted differs based on the type of case. For a death penalty case, each side has 20 strikes. In felony cases, the defense has 10 strikes and the prosecution has 6. For civil trials, each side has 6 peremptory strikes.
Peremptory strikes cannot be used to discriminate against potential jurors based on race or gender. The opposing counsel can object to a peremptory strike they believe was made for discriminatory purposes.
Jury Selection Strategies
During voir dire, the plaintiff’s attorney and defense attorney have different goals in terms of the types of jurors they want seated.
The plaintiff’s attorney wants jurors who:
- Will empathize with the plaintiff and see them as the victim
- Are open to finding liability and awarding large damages
- Are skeptical of corporate motives and the defense’s arguments
- Trust the opinions of expert witnesses who may testify
The defense attorney wants jurors who:
- Will meticulously evaluate the plaintiff’s evidence and burden of proof
- Are reluctant to find liability without very convincing evidence
- Are cautious about excessive damage awards
- Will follow the judge’s instructions on the law
Attorneys also consider demographics and try to select jurors similar to their client. However, obvious racial or gender discrimination during jury selection is unlawful.
Importance of Voir Dire
Voir dire is crucial because biased or unfair jurors can undermine justice. Attorneys only have a short time to observe prospective jurors and identify any red flags.
Judges prefer an expeditious voir dire process. But attorneys must balance efficiency vs. having enough time to ask detailed questions and evaluate responses. Rushed voir dire can result in biased jurors being seated.
The voir dire process sets the tone for trial. Jurors’ first impressions of the attorneys, parties and case issues often form during voir dire and impact their ultimate verdict.
Thorough, strategic voir dire takes experience. Lawyers must think on their feet to ask probing follow-up questions while observing jurors’ body language for signs of bias. Highly skilled jury selection can help stack the odds for their client when the trial begins.