I've picked many juries of the course of the last twenty-five years of trying criminal cases in LA and many other counties and states across the nation. Obviously, you want to pick a jury that you think would be sympathetic to your client, the theory of your case and what your case stands for. But the reality is it's very difficult to tell who is going to be sympathetic to your case and who won't. There is a lot of guesswork that goes into picking a jury. However, if you know what you're doing, you have experience and you know the type of juror that you want, then a lot of the guesswork is cut down and you can make educated decisions based on the information that you have.
The reality is though, first and foremost, you want to make sure that each juror on the case is fair and has an open mind. Because if you have a good argument in your criminal case, then you're going to have a chance to win. You don't have a chance to win if you have closed-minded jurors who think that somebody is guilty just because they are charged with a crime.
That's one of the biggest questions that I ask in voir dire and really go into it is, I ask the panel of jurors whether anybody thought that my client was guilty or thinks that my client is guilty just because he's here in court, has a lawyer and is being charged with serious crimes. And inevitably, in almost every jury trial that I've done, one or more jurors raises their hand and says that they believe that the client is already guilty. Sometimes I think it's because they don't want to be on the jury, so they figure if they say stuff like that they won't be picked, and they can go home. Other times I think it's really because they do think the person is guilty just because they're charged with a crime and they're just being honest about it. And it makes sense because the question becomes why would somebody be charged with a crime if they weren't guilty? This is where the rub is in criminal defense. People can be tried for crimes and be completely innocent of that crime. We hear stories all the time of people being wrongly convicted. I've had many jury trials where in the end, the jury within a very short period of time, finds the client not guilty because the prosecutor simply didn't have the evidence on the person.
Just because somebody is charged with a crime and has to go through a jury trial, doesn't mean they're guilty. The prosecutors have the burden of proof and if they don't prove it, the defendant should be found not guilty and released.
Who Has To Prove What In A Jury Trial In Los Angeles If The Person Is Charged With A Crime?
The bottom line is that the law and the jury instructions make it very clear that the prosecutors have the burden of proof in a criminal trial. That means that they have to prove each element of whatever crime they've charged a person with beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's a high standard. Not only do they have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in a jury trial in LA, the defendant also has the presumption of innocence, meaning that the defendant is presumed to be innocent unless the prosecutors can find them guilty. This is another important thing to hammer home to the jury, so those jurors are saying, the person's already guilty simply because they are charged with a crime. They have to be taught and educated and shown, no that's wrong. If you had to vote right now before the trial started, you would vote not guilty because the person is presumed innocent.
Another thing that has to be hammered home in a jury trial in LA is if we didn't have a presumption of innocence and the person didn't have to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we have all kinds of horrible results. That would mean the police and prosecutors would control everything. Anybody that they arrested and decided that they thought they were guilty would be convicted. And we don't want this. This leaves a system subject to manipulation. Political wars could break out where people are being arrested because the government or the police or prosecutors didn't like their politics – the person wasn't necessarily guilty of any crime. That happens all the time. So, the bottom line is our jury trial system is a great system. It's the best in the world. It's not perfect but it really strives to get the best and most fair result and I think most of the time it does.
How Do You Go About Picking A Jury In Los Angeles?
Basically, what you do is bring in about fifty to sixty jurors. Each side typically has about ten peremptory challenges – meaning they can get rid of a juror who they don't think is fair by way of a peremptory challenge and then once they're done, then they can't do that anymore, so you obviously want to use your peremptory challenges wisely. Randomly, jurors are seated in a jury box of twelve people. A lot of times some of the judges will add extra chairs and make it about sixteen to eighteen people so that the process can go faster, but those people that are in the jury box are the ones that are the panel unless somebody excuses one of the jurors. So once both sides – the prosecution and defense – accept the panel as constituted. That's the jury and the trial will start. So, the judge and the clerk of the court will just call jurors randomly. The judge will start the questioning and ask a bunch of questions. Each side can give questions to the judge to ask – depending on what type of case is it – for example, if it's a weapon case then the judge can ask if somebody has issues with guns and gun violence or whether they think they can be fair in a case like that. Once the judge is done, usually most courts will let each side ask questions or the entire panel and then they can ask questions of specific jurors depending on what their answers are.
Once all the jurors are questioned, then the challenges to the jurors start. There can be a challenge for the cause – which basically means that whatever the person said in answer to the questions during the voir dire – whatever the person said they are not going to be a fair juror and therefore, they're going to be challenged and excused for cause. Then there are just the peremptory challenges where you're pretty much able to get rid of a juror if you don't think they're going to be fair to your side. Obviously, as a defense attorney, you want to keep track of who you got rid of and why in case the prosecutors were to ever challenge and say that you're getting rid of jurors because of their race, or because of their gender, or for some other reason that's improper, and then you can justify why you got rid of that person.
Once each side accepts the panel then the jurors are sworn in and the trial begins and then it goes into opening statements, the evidence is presented and eventually there's a closing argument and the jury will deliberate and decide whether the person is guilty and not guilty of each of the charges that they are charged with.