Jury Selection In Criminal Defense Cases In Los Angeles
I have participated in approximately two hundred jury trials in the course of the last twenty-five years and selecting the right jury to hear the case is crucial from a defense standpoint. There’re all kinds of different strategies and depending on what the rules have been over the years, I’ve had to tailor my strategies when it comes to jury selection in Los Angeles according to what was going on.
I remember way back in the day when a lot of the judges would not let the criminal defense attorney or prosecutor ask any questions during the jury selection, so it was just the judge asking the questions and a lot of times the prosecutors could approach the judge and said listen, can you ask this question? Can you ask that question? You’d have to explain to the judge why that was important in selecting a jury. So, the bottom line is, that’s changed. Now the criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor both get to ask questions, but way back when you would get a jury where you had no idea what these guys were going to do.
So, as a defense attorney, you just want to make sure, or at least I wanted to make sure, that we had people that were fair-minded. So, I’d be trying to get into questions or have the judge get into questions – and I still do that to this day – that talk about, if you have to vote right now, would you find the person guilty or would you find them innocent. I’m telling you right now, there’re a lot of jurors that raise their hand and say I would find the person guilty. Really, the reason they’re saying that is because where else would someone else be here going to trial? Why else would the prosecutors file a case against them? Why else would the police arrest them?
But that’s not right. That’s not how the system works. The bottom line is there’s a presumption of innocence and before the trial starts, the person is presumed innocent. So, if you had to vote right now you have to vote not guilty. So, you teach the jurors how things are supposed to work. You teach them what the law in the case is and you teach them exactly the right way to handle a criminal case. It’s crucial. So, if you’re thinking about jury selection for your criminal case, you really have to get in with an attorney who has been down the road before and knows how to select a jury.
When you do jury selection, another crucial thing is you have to know your case so that will dictate some of the questions that you ask. If it’s a gun case, you’re going to want to know what people’s gun beliefs are. In other words, do they hate guns? Do they think there should be no guns? Do they love guns? Then you have to compare that to your case and then make a decision on what type of juror you want, and you have to be on the look-out for jurors who already think people are guilty and are ready to find them guilty regardless of what the evidence is. Obviously, from a criminal defense standpoint, you don’t want that person on your jury.
I’ll tell you another thing. The prosecutors are looking for jurors who are very sympathetic, don’t like to see people punished, don’t think it is right to judge somebody. The prosecutors are going to try to kick those jurors out, so there’s a lot of different components that go into selecting a jury in Los Angeles County. There are challenges that can be issued for the cause. If you can show that the juror is biased in some way – the defense or the prosecution – can get rid of that particular juror and you don’t even have to waste a peremptory challenge which is basically a free challenge to get rid of any juror that you want for just about any reason, as long as you’re not giving some biased reason. You have to be careful of that as well because either side can object and to what’s called a Wheeler challenge. Basically, that’s a case that says you can’t be knocking people out because of their race or their religion. You can’t be knocking people out because they are a man or a woman. You have to judge the people in a fair manner. So, if you see a prosecutor knocking out all the Asians jurors, you know there’s a problem there and you can do a Wheeler challenge.
So, there’s a lot of different components to selecting a jury, what jurors to keep, what jurors to get rid of and I like to get my client’s input. Yes, when it comes to jury selection, I’m going to be the final decision maker, but I’m going to let my client help. I’m going to hear what they have to say too because it’s their future on the line. It’s their freedom on the line. It’s their reputation on the line. It’s their rights on the line. They need to have a say-so in which jurors are picked on their case.
So, if you have jury selection issue – you have concerns about it – I’ve been doing a lot of jury trials over the years – and I have a pretty good feel for it. Sometimes, we even use experts when we do our jury selection – depending on the case and depending on the client’s finances, we’re going to do everything we can to pick the right jury, because in the end, they’re the ones that are going to make the decision on whether the criminal defendant in Los Angeles is guilty or not guilty.