Jury Selection

Criminal Justice in Texas: Jury Selection

Understanding the jury selection process in Texas

The US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment provides that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state where the said crimes shall have been committed.” If you’ve been charged with any crime, you have the right to a fair trial. The selection of the jurors for your case is critical to having that fair trial. Different jurors may decide cases differently. Often, just one juror can persuade the other jurors to decide whether you are not guilty or guilty.

The selection of the jurors who are most likely to be impartial and fair requires years of experience. It really is an art, based on a lawyer’s history of trying cases before juries in Texas. At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, you get a hard-hitting group of defense attorney who help you take back control of your life, and the benefit of our experience when it comes to jury selection. We understand that selecting the best jury for your case involves a lot of legal and practical preparation before we even walk into the courtroom. Call us in Killeen to get started.

What are the jury selection rules in Central Texas?

Jurors are selected from voter and motor vehicle registration databases. Twelve jurors are generally selected for a criminal jury in district court and six jurors in county courts. The courts may have slightly different rules, depending on where you are, but “the basics” are the same. For example, Bell County requires that jurors:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be US citizens
  • Be residents of Texas and Bell County in particular
  • Be able to read and write
  • Be of sound mind and moral character
  • Not have a conviction (or an indictment) for a felony or a third-degree misdemeanor.

Coryell, McLennan, and Lampasas Counties have the same rules.

Some potential jurors may be exempt from serving if they are 70 or older (in Coryell it’s 65), are a student in a public or private secondary school, have legal custody of a child under 12 years of age (and you can’t arrange alternative supervision), have a serious medical conditions, or for other reasons.

How do you question and challenge jurors in Central Texas criminal cases?

Texas uses the voir dire process – a “preliminary examination of a witness or juror by a judge or counsel” – to help ensure that jurors are impartial, and that they’ll be fair and unbiased when deciding your case. Along with questioning potential jurors, defense attorneys and prosecutors can also challenge a juror for cause. (“Cause” means that the juror cannot be impartial.) The judge decides whether a challenge for cause should be granted.

The government and your defense lawyer can also use peremptory challenges, where the defense attorney or prosecutor does not have to explain why he or she objects to a particular juror. A peremptory challenge can be for any reason. It’s usually because your lawyer has concerns about the juror’s ability to accept your version of events or the ability to be skeptical of the prosecution’s case.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 35 governs the formation of a jury. For example, the number of challenges is set forth in 35.15 as follows:

  • In capital cases where the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the government and the defense lawyers have up to 15 peremptory challenges. If there are multiple defendants, each side has eight peremptory challenges.
  • In felony cases and capital cases where the death penalty is not being sought, the prosecution and defense each have 10 peremptory challenges. If there are multiple defendants, each side has six peremptory challenges.

The number of challenges is lower for misdemeanor offenses.

Are there limits to preemptory challenges?

Our Killeen defense lawyers understand that there are some limits to peremptory challenges, called “Batson” challenges, which provide some control over peremptory challenges. In short, a Batson challenge (Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S. Ct. 1712 (1986)) indicates that a preemptory challenge is being used in some discriminatory way.

What factors do defense lawyers consider when questioning prospective jurors?

If defense lawyers don’t have grounds for challenging the juror for cause, then it is necessary for the defense lawyer to prioritize the jurors who are most likely to be fair jurors and submit peremptory challenges for the rest. In most criminal cases, the art of selecting jurors who will be more favorable to your defense includes the following considerations:

  • Examining the juror’s background.We normally want to know what type of job the juror has, where he/she lives, and whether he or she has a spouse or children. For example, if a juror owns a retail store, then we may try to avoid that juror if you are charged with a theft crime. We are looking to see if there are any indicators that a juror is close-minded or is willing to listen to all sides before making a decision.
  • Whether a juror can influence jurors.Some jurors are more likely to lead a jury in one direction than more passive jurors. We may or may not prefer the more persuasive juror – if we think that juror is good for the defense. For example, a juror with a legal background or a public speaking job might be more persuasive than someone who doesn’t normally interact with the public.
  • Social media accounts.Once we have the juror’s name, our team will examine the juror’s social media postings to try to determine how he/she might decide a criminal case.
  • Experience with criminal activity.We can ask background questions to determine if a juror has ever been a victim of a crime, has law enforcement officers in the family, and so forth. What we cannot discuss is the current case. We also cannot ask the jurors how they might decide a hypothetical set of facts.

Other than the jurors themselves, what factors are considered in the selection of jurors in criminal cases?

Defense lawyers also take into account the type of criminal case, the judge who is hearing the case, and other factors when deciding which jurors to select and which jurors to avoid. Often, if the prosecution really likes a juror, then we probably won’t. (The reverse is also true.)

What are the different types of criminal cases that use jurors?

There are different types of criminal cases that may or may not use jurors. Our criminal defense lawyers understand the role of jurors in these different cases:

  • Grand juries. This process uses jurors to investigate whether there is probable cause to file an indictment against a defendant. Grand juries use between 16 and 23 jurors. They are brought by the prosecution and closed to the public and to the defense.
  • Petit juries. These are the standard juries that decide whether the accused are guilty or not guilty. The criminal cases that use petit juries are open to the public. The defendant and the defendant’s lawyer participate in the jury selection process as we’ve discussed. Generally, these juries have 6-12 people.
  • Bench trials. You do have the right to waive your Constitutional right to a jury trial and have the judge assigned to the case decide your fate. Usually, a jury trial is preferable, but there may be occasions when a bench trial works better.

Jurors serve in both Texas state courts and in Texas federal courts.

Do you have a criminal defense lawyer near me?

We meet clients at our office in Killeen, located at 701 W Central Texas Expressway. Our lawyers arrange to see people who are in custody. We also conduct video conferences for folks who have access to video.

We’re skilled at selecting juries who will listen to you and to your defense lawyers. Our connection to the local communities helps us understand some of the inclinations and concerns of potential jurors.

Contact our experienced Killeen jury trial lawyers today

At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our Killeen criminal defense lawyers are skilled trial lawyers. We understand what questions to ask jurors, and how to build a jury that will be fair and just. The best strategy is to call an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as you are arrested. To speak with a seasoned defense lawyer, call us or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment at our office in Killeen. We work with clients throughout all of Central Texas, including Temple, Belton, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, and Waco, as well as McLennan, Coryell, and Bell Counties.