Jurors perform a crucial role in the American criminal justice system. Individuals accused of a crime rely upon jurors for the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, often when someone gets a letter telling them that they have been summoned for jury duty, there is an immediate rush of dread. While there are many components during a trial, jury selection tends to be the most overlooked because to many, it is a slow and boring process. The reality is, jury selection is one of the most important factors in winning a trial- a jury decides the verdict of a case…they decide who wins and who loses. This is because a jury that hears your case is going to be instructed by the judge to determine whether the State has met its burden of proof by proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Every case carries with it something that will trigger biases, prejudices, and firmly held beliefs in the minds of some potential jurors. Although most people want to believe that they can be fair and impartial, whether they realize it or not, everyone is implicitly bias. Implicit bias refers to unconscious attitudes, reactions, stereotypes, and categories that affect behavior and understanding[1]. When it comes to jury selection, rather than try to find jurors sympathetic to your cause, trial lawyers should identify potential jurors who have had experiences, or hold attitudes and opinions that would make it difficult or impossible to see the case from your point of view[2]. At the start of a criminal jury trial, a process referred to as voir dire is conducted. During this process, potential jurors are asked a series of questions by both the prosecutor and defense counsel; these questions are aimed at eliciting biases and knowledge of the case that could affect the potential juror’s ability to be impartial in the proceedings[3]. The primary goal during voir dire is for the attorneys to gain a better understanding of each person individually as well as potential group dynamics [4].

When conducting a voir dire, it is crucial for lawyers to learn about the backgrounds, experiences, opinions, beliefs, and values of all potential jurors before deciding whether that person will be selected or dismissed.  For instance, if a juror has strong, personal feelings about the Second Amendment,  you would want to know that if you are trying a case about unregistered firearms. Essentially, jury selection is a way for an attorney to weed out undesirable jurors, people who are likely to sympathize with the opposing party. If it becomes apparent that a potential juror will favor one side or the other, the court will dismiss that individual from the jury pool. However, before the potential juror is dismissed, the attorney exercising a preemptory challenge must demonstrate that the prospective juror either has a close relation to the case or carries a bias against his or her client that could compromise the trial[5]. For example, if you are defense counsel for a man charged with felony DWI, it may not be in your client’s best interest to have a juror whose family member was killed by a drunk driver. During the jury selection process, if a lawyer doesn’t ask thorough questions in order to weed out jurors who may have come into court with preconceived notions about the case or the defendant’s guilt, they risk losing their client’s case.

A trial lawyer once said “You cannot win a trial if you do not have an audience who is open to your case theory and the arguments you will make”[6]. One of the most important things a trial lawyer can do when picking a jury is to find a way to create a relationship with potential jurors so that a bond can be built and trust formed. As human beings, we can sense when someone is not being real or honest with us. When you are in voir dire with a jury, look at them, listen to them, learn about them, and above all else, don’t act like a lawyer just yet. Why? Because this is your first chance to make an impression, to show the potential jurors, that you too, are just a human being…an equal. A juror who feels seen and engaged with has the ability to persuade other jurors to make a decision based on the reasons they believe.



[1] “Awareness of Implicit Biases.” Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, 30 June 2021, poorvucenter.yale.edu/ImplicitBiasAwareness#:~:text=Implicit%20bias%20refers%20to%20unconscious,explicit%20bias%20(Boysen%2C%20et.

[2] “The Art of Jury De-Selection.” Plaintiff Magazine, plaintiffmagazine.com/recent issues/item/the-art-of-jury-de-selection. Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[3] “Do You Know the Importance of Jury Selection in Your Case?” Ryan Beasley Law, ryanbeasleylaw.com/2022/02/do-you-know-the-importance-of-jury-selection-in-your-case/#:~:text=The%20jury%20selection%20process%2C%20though,you%20receive%20a%20fair%20trial. Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[4] “Voir Dire and Jury Selection.” Judicial Education Center, jec.unm.edu/education/online-training/stalking-tutorial/voir-dire-and-jury-selection. Accessed 10 Apr. 2024.

[5] Neal S. GainsbergAttorney Neal Gainsberg has spent the last 20+ years fighting to protect the rights of the injured in Chicago and throughout Illinois. For dedicated legal help with a personal injury. “Why Is Jury Selection Such an Important Part of the Trial Process?” Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers, 7 Mar. 2020, www.gainsberglaw.com/blog/why-is-jury-selection-such-an-important-part-of-the-trial-process/.

[6] Hatcliffe, Jared. Trial Advocacy: The Art of Storytelling: Strategies for Winning a Trial in New York State Court. Carolina Academic Press, LLC, 2022.