Brittany is a licensed attorney who specializes in criminal law, legal writing, and appellate practice and procedure.
Imagine arriving home from work on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. As you stroll to your mailbox, everything feels rights in the world. And then, suddenly, there it is. Sitting in your mailbox...a notice instructing you to report for jury duty. The horror!
Don't panic. Not only can jury duty be an interesting and exciting experience, but serving as a juror in a legal proceeding is an extremely important civic duty. But how can judges and attorneys ensure that a jury will be fair? And what happens when a prospective juror is unfit to serve on a case?
Challenge for cause, or 'strike for cause,' is a practice that allows attorneys to remove potential jurors who are incapable of rendering a fair and impartial verdict in a trial. In other words, a challenge for cause is used to get rid of any jurors who can't consider the evidence fairly, or who will be influenced by hidden biases. Challenges for cause differ from peremptory challenges, which may be used by either side to remove prospective jurors for any reason.
While there's no real limit to the amount of challenges for cause that may be used, the attorney must state a specific reason as to why the challenged juror can't be fair. Once a challenge for cause is made, it is up to the judge to decide whether the potential juror is fit to serve on the jury.
Challenges for cause may be based on a variety of factors. Legal qualifications in a given jurisdiction may require that a prospective juror be excused because the juror has a mental or physical condition that would prevent service (i.e. serious hearing or vision problems). Close relationships with parties involved in case may also serve as a basis for a challenge for cause.
Actual biases, like prior knowledge of the facts of the case or a deeply ingrained attitude about the case, may result in a juror being removed for cause. In addition, an inability to follow the judge's orders because of a preconceived opinion may also lead to a challenge. A juror's inability to consider certain sentence recommendations must also be taken into account.
As an example, let's say you're a prospective juror who is waiting in the jury pool for a double-murder case. The prosecutor asks the members pool if anyone has an opinion about the death penalty. You raise your hand and explain that you strongly oppose the death penalty because of your religious beliefs. When pressed to explain this opinion, you state that you would never vote to sentence someone to death, even if the facts of the case were heinous. Because of this, you'd likely be removed for cause due to your inability to consider the full range of penalties.
Criminology & Jury Behavior
The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution gives the right to a 'speedy and public trial' by an 'impartial jury.' The right to a fair trial is the one of the great cornerstones of the American justice system. Of all of the elements of a trial, the jury selection process is considered by many to be the most important safeguards of a fair trial.
Considering the high stakes of jury trials, it should come as no surprise that the issue of juror bias is a hot topic for criminologists who study jury selection practices and strategies. While some prejudices are obvious, concealed biases may be more difficult for an attorney or judge to uncover.
Professionals with backgrounds in psychology, sociology, and anthropology are often hired by attorneys as jury consultants to observe prospective jurors and detect hidden biases and prejudices. Attorneys may then make challenges to the jurors based on the jury consultant's recommendations.
Jury consultants study the connection between attitudes and voting behaviors in order to predict how a potential jury in a given community will decide a case. This can be accomplished by surveying members of the community and analyzing the results. A typical community survey may collect information about background characteristics (race, age, income, marital status), as well as personal beliefs and attitudes. Some may ask the survey-taker to consider the facts of the case and then vote on a hypothetical verdict.
In addition to community research, jury consultants also study human behavior and group dynamics in order to better understand how different personalities on the same jury may influence a verdict. The purpose of this type of research is to arm the attorneys with as much information about the potential jurors so that the selected jury is more likely to hand down a favorable verdict.
Challenge for cause is a practice that allows attorneys to remove prospective jurors who can't render a fair and impartial verdict. A juror's inability to hear a particular case may be based on a variety of factors, including close relationships with a party in the case, or actual and implied biases. Attorneys may call upon jury consultants to study and analyze community attitudes so that they may better prepare for jury selection. Challenges for cause are used to excuse the prospective jurors whose preconceived or deeply ingrained attitudes will prevent them from handing down fair verdicts.
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