What is jury selection in Florida?
Jury Selection is a multi-step process involving the process of getting people from the community to come to the court house, and then subsequently the process of interviewing prospective jury members and choosing a panel for trial (this latter part is called “voir dire”).
For some general information about Jury Selection in Florida click here.
Initial Jury Selection
(i.e. getting the people from the street to the Courthouse)
Before you pick a jury for trial, you have to gather a group of prospective jurors together. When we think of prospective jurors being selected, the first thing that comes to mind is that envelope in the mail that says Jury Duty in big bold red. That is the start of the jury selection process.
The process is a random sampling of the people in Orlando. When you hear the words “the constitution guarantees a fair cross section of the population” it refers to the requirement that the selective pool of prospective jury members must be drawn from a fair and representative group of people.
Constitutional problems arise when large ethnic, racial, religious, or gender groups are systematically excluded.
Jury Selection requires an adherence to this Constitutional principle.
Next, Picking the Jury
Next part of jury selection is choosing which jurors will sit for a case.
After the people come to the courthouse, they are brought into the courtroom and jury selection begins.
In a typical courtroom, the Judge will order from between 20 to 50 potential jurors to sit in the audience and go through the voir dire process. The Voir dire process involves the judge, the state attorney, and the defense attorney asking questions to the prospective jury members. Questions go toward their bias, their views, their love or hatred for police, their experience with the criminal justice system (or the civil system in civil cases).
In general, the goal is to see whether or not a person can sit back, listen to the facts of a case and make a decision based on the law and not their emotional/subjective views that they entered the courtroom with. The lawyers and judge will ask questions until each is done.
After the questions are done, the group of prospective jurors is asked to leave the room and the lawyers decide who will be on the jury. Each lawyer gets a number of peremptory strikes. The lawyers are allowed to strike as many jury members as they can if they qualify as a “for cause” strike. A “for cause” challenge is where the jury member simply can’t sit on the jury and promise to be fair (i.e. biased, or can’t concentrate, medical problems, doesn’t understand the language, etc).
Jury Selection in Florida is unique in that the majority of cases involve only selecting 6 people to sit on the jury, whereas many (if not most) states require 12 people.
Case Study in Jury Selection “Pre-trying your case.”
During jury selection,the state and defense counsel are allowed to object to certain questions being asked.
One of the areas that is not allowed is called “pre trying the case.” This refers to the practice of listing all of the facts of the actual case, presenting them to the prospective jurors and seeing whether they think your client is innocent or guilty. This is strictly forbidden.
However, this concept is in direct contradiction to the theory that a Defense Attorney must be allowed to test his theory of Defense. In other words, how can a person be a fair jury member if they are not open to the possibility of the defense.
These two theories are contradictory in that they ask very similar things but one is allowed, where the other is not.
This causes problems because if the lawyer doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t make the proper analogies and legal arguments, he may never have a decent chance to test his theory of defense to the prospective juries.
Lawyers must walk a very fine line, laying out just enough broad facts to test the theory, without getting specific enough to get stopped for pre-trying his case. This is a crucial part of the jury selection process.
Take a look at one of the important cases on this subject called Ingrassia v. State, 902 So.2d 357 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005). In Ingrassia, the 4th District Court of Appeals reversed an entire trial because the trial court did not property allow the Defendant to test his theory of Defense.
The Court stated, “we recognize that the trial court has broad discretion in regulating the scope of voir dire… Nevertheless, the court may not preclude a party from inquiry into bias bearing on a matter that is at the heart of the Defendant‘s case.”
In SUM, Jury Selection in Florida
Jury selection in Florida is a multi-step process involving getting the jurors to the courthouse and then picking the unbiased ones to sit on a trial. Large racial and ethnic groups cannot be systematically excluded without running into Constitutional problems. Jury Selection in Florida requires an experienced lawyer who can get to the core issues without the State getting the key questions prevented.
When your life is on the line don’t take any chances with a bad Jury Selection in Florida.