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Cedar Rapids Criminal Lawyer: Jury Selection and What you Should Know

by David A. Cmelik Law PLC​​

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a criminal offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC.


Generally speaking, a jury is a presumably impartial panel of citizens drawn at random to sit, hear and see evidence at trial presented by the Government, ideally refuted by the Defendant, to unanimously decide whether the State has met its burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


If you have heard these phrases before, every one of them has been used in American literature, television, and movies since their inception. But what is a jury in a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, criminal prosecution?


The Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure dictate the process for the deselection of potential jurors. More on “deselection” in a moment.


“At each jury trial the clerk shall select a number of prospective jurors equal to twelve plus the prescribed number of strikes, by drawing ballots from a box without seeing the names. The clerk shall list all jurors drawn. Computer selection processes may be used instead of separate ballots to select jury panels.”


Iowa R. Crim. Pro. 2.18(1)


Jury selection, or, voir dire, is a conversation among the attorneys for the parties, led by the judge, where the attorneys are allowed for the only time during the jury trial to speak to individual jurors and obtain responses to probing questions about their qualifications to serve on a jury.


During this time, potential jurors can be “struck,” or, disqualified from jury service, based on a “challenge for cause.” A challenge for cause may lie under a variety of circumstances but the most common is that he or she is somehow prohibited from being a “fair and impartial” juror. See Iowa R. Crim. Pro. 2.18(5)(a-p).


For example, if a juror cannot stand in judgment because their religion commands them to forgive and never judge, a prosecutor may seek to strike him or her for cause. Conversely, if someone believes anyone arrested is guilty the police protect the community—and the judge cannot rehabilitate the juror and direct them to be fair and impartial— that potential juror may be struck for cause by the defendant.


Unfair or partial potential jurors who are stricken for cause by the trial judge are excused from jury duty for that particular jury trial and replaced with potential jurors from the pool of prospective jurors selected for that trial, usually sitting in the gallery along with other prospective jurors who have already been selected for jury selection questioning.


The Court will usually ask the replacement whether they have heard everything that has been happening with the others separated from the group for questioning. They will also be initially quizzed as to whether they can be fair and impartial and then questions will be opened up to the parties to determine their qualifications.


Once the parties “pass for cause” and the attorney questioning is over, the clerk will present a list of those remaining potential jurors to the attorneys and they will alternate making “peremptory strikes” of those they wish to exclude because of perceived prejudices that were not considered challenges to cause.


This is a good place in this writing to mention that the Government may not strike a juror because of race. If it is obvious that the Government has stricken a potential juror because they are of a particular race, that raises a “Batson” challenge named after the United States Supreme Court case of the same name. A defendant raising a Batson challenge must make a “prima facie” case (appears on its face) that the peremptory challenges were race-based and then the Government must answer to the judge that there was a legitimate reason irrespective of race to strike the potential juror.


Through peremptory challenges and challenges for cause, in a Linn County, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, felony jury selection, for example, the court and the attorneys whittle through a list of about 25 potential jurors, with each attorney for the defendant and the prosecution allowed six strikes each.


After each attorney has exercised his or her strikes, the panel remaining is usually 13 with one alternate selected to sit through the entire jury trial in case a juror is otherwise excused or becomes ill during the trial. This is your jury.


This is “deselection” and not jury selection because the attorneys cannot merely point out who they want and have the judge put those people on the jury. They have to challenge for cause and peremptorily “strike” potential jurors who appear to be hostile to the parties’ respective cases.


It is the most difficult—and arguably the most important—part of a jury trial, the least “linear” of all jury trial activities. During jury selection, both defense attorney and prosecutor interact with the potential jurors in almost a town hall meeting atmosphere. Although attorneys do most of the talking (along with the judge who, make no mistake, is in control of the courtroom) the jurors can and do ask questions, make comments, and challenge the attorneys’ assumptions and assertions.


In contrast, once a jury trial begins, there is typically no jury interaction and the case proceeds in a fairly linear fashion with witness testimony and exhibits presented one at a time.


However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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Not Guilty It's up to your attorney to choose fair and impartial jurors who take seriously their duty to acquit in the presence of reasonable doubt.  It's more than likely that those drawn randomly for jury duty will not want to be there. But the right to jury trial is an absolutely important-- perhaps the most important-- right of the accused and an integral part of the criminal justice system in our country.  If you or a loved one has been arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC  for a free initial consultation today at 319-389-1889.

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