Who is a Jury of my Peers?

If you go to trial for a felony, gross misdemeanor, or Battery Domestic Violence charge, you are entitled to a jury trial pursuant to both the United States and Nevada Constitutions. This is commonly called a “jury of your peers.” But who is considered a jury of your peers?

The first step of a criminal trial is picking a jury. This process is called “voir dire.” Typically, a large panel of prospective jurors will be brought into the courtroom and the Judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney will ask all sorts of questions about the prospective jurors’ life, background, job, hobbies, and views on issues that might be relevant to the facts of the case. The objective of this process is to whittle down the panel to 12 jurors who can be fair and impartial, follow the Judge’s instructions, and render a fair verdict.

Based on their responses or particular backgrounds, the prosecutor and defense attorney can ask the Judge to remove any juror from the panel because, for some reason, that juror cannot be fair and impartial. The judge makes the final decision whether the juror should be removed “for cause.” There is no limit to how many challenges “for cause” the prosecutor or defense attorney can make.

After the prosecutor and defense attorney have made all their challenges “for cause,” they are then allowed a certain amount of “peremptory challenges.” If the charge is punishable by death or life imprisonment, each side is entitled to eight peremptory challenges. If the trial is for any other charge, then each side gets four peremptory challenges.

A peremptory challenge is an attempt to remove a juror for almost any reason that’s not a challenge for cause. For example, if a defendant is on trial for sexual assault and a prospective juror reveals that she had a sister who was the victim of a sexual assault, but still claims that she can be fair and impartial and follow the Judge’s instructions, the defense attorney would be smart to strike the juror from the panel by using a peremptory challenge.

However, there are limitations to peremptory challenges. Neither party can request that a juror be stricken based on the juror’s race, gender, or sexual orientation. When one party argues the other side has attempted to strike a juror simply because of that person’s race, gender, or sexual orientation, this is called a “Batson challenge,” named after the U.S. Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

Just recently, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an African-American man’s murder conviction because the trial judge allowed the prosecutor to strike the only African-American prospective juror in the panel without an adequate “race-neutral” reason. As a result of the prosecutor’s Batson challenge, the defendant had been tried by an all-white jury, who found him guilty. He will now get a new trial, once again supposedly by a “jury of his peers.”

To read more about the background of the case: Federal court draws line at ‘frankly race-explicit’ reason to strike juror | Reuters

To read the First Circuit’s decision: 21-1333P-01A.pdf (uscourts.gov)

If you are facing criminal charges, you need a criminal lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to pick a fair and impartial jury to give you the best chances of winning the case. Call us at the Nobles & Yanez Law Firm to receive a free consultation about your case.