Removal for Cause: Definition & Law

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet
Jury members are screened and sometimes removed from the jury pool if an attorney feels they might be biased. In this lesson we will look at the jury selection process and see how removal for cause helps to create a fair and impartial jury.

Jury Bias

You're in a jury pool of about 50 people. The attorneys are asking questions to different potential jury members. The man next to you, Archie, was asked if he thought he could judge fairly, and he said 'probably not' because he had bad experiences with 'those people'.

The attorney moved on, and asked other members questions as well, including you. She asked you if you could be impartial, and you said yes. When they started picking jurors for the trial, you were removed, and Archie was chosen. You were shocked. Is that right? Why should someone who admits to being biased be on a jury?

Qualifications to be on the Jury

Before we talk about what removal for cause means, let's look into the process of jury selection.

The Clerk of Court for the judicial district where the court sits is responsible for selecting potential jury members. They use voter registration lists, driver's license data banks, and other sources. It differs from state to state.

From those sources, they prepare a list of people who might make up the jury pool. The jury pool is a group of 30 to 100 people that get a jury summons and form the group from which juries are eventually chosen. The minimum requirements to be in the jury pool is that they must:

  • be 18 years old
  • live in the court's jurisdiction
  • have the right to vote

There are also physical conditions that will keep a citizen from becoming a juror. Jury members must be:

  • physically able to sit through the trial
  • able to hear and understand the trial proceedings
  • mentally competent to understand the proceedings and the instructions from the judge
  • able to impartially render a verdict based on the facts and the law

Voir Dire Phase

These qualifications are explored through the jury selection process at a phase called voir dire. Voir dire is Latin for 'to speak the truth' and is the questioning phase of jury selection. Attorneys for both parties ask questions about bias and conflicts of interest to potential jury members to see if they are qualified.

Conflicts arise when a juror member knows one of the attorney's, the plaintiff or defendant, or anyone with a significant connection to the case. However, once these are discovered, the potential juror is not immediately disqualified. That is done at the striker hearing phase of the process.

Striker Hearing Phase

When both juries have questioned all of the pool members, then the court holds a striker hearing, where both attorneys ask the judge to remove members from the pool.

Jurors cannot be removed for race, ethnicity or religion. This is to ensure fairness in the trial process.
Jury Illustration Painting

There are two removal methods used:

  • A peremptory strike is one where an attorney can remove a person without giving any reason (though it can't race, religion or ethnicity). These are limited usually to nine, and once they are used up, any removal request by that attorney will have to be 'for cause'.
  • For cause means that the attorney believes the person can't be impartial based on bias or conflict.

How Does the Whole Process Work?

Lets say a small county has some criminal trials scheduled a few months out. The clerk of court would create a jury pool from the voter and driver's license lists. At the start of a trial, some of the pool members will come into the courtroom. From here, the voir dire phase begins. The attorneys for both parties take turns asking questions to the members of the pool.

After the questions, the striker phase begins. At this point, the judge will remove anyone he or she felt was not qualified, and reasons why are put on the record, though not typically announced in open court.

Then each attorney will submit either peremptory or for cause removals. If the other attorney objects, then each attorney presents their reasons why they feel that juror is, or is not, qualified.

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