How does jury selection work?

How does jury selection work?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees a defendant the right to trial by jury in both civil and criminal proceedings. In New York State, a jury pool is drawn from the following resources:

  • Registered voter lists
  • Names on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Income tax filers
  • Unemployment or family assistance recipients
  • Volunteers

Criminal felony trials in New York have 12 jurors and up to six alternates, any of whom can step in if a regular juror is excused for emergency reasons. Civil procedures and trials for lesser criminal offenses (e.g. misdemeanors) usually have six jurors and one to four alternates.

The jury selection process

Jurors are chosen through a question and answer process called “Voir Dire.” Attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense (and sometimes the judge) ask each prospective juror some questions to determine whether he or she should serve on the case about to be tried. The purpose of Voir Dire is to ascertain if the person has any bias or connection to the case that could impair their ability to judge it impartially. On occasion, would-be jurors complete a questionnaire beforehand, which the attorneys and the judge may use when deciding whether or not to accept them.

In criminal trials, the Voir Dire process is recorded by the court reporter and made part of the trial record. This is not the case in most New York civil trials.

Objecting to a juror

Exercising challenges is a way for trial counsel to shape the formation of the final jury. A juror may be challenged for cause if it can be demonstrated that a particular juror cannot be fair or impartial. Acceptable reasons for excusing a juror for cause include but is not limited to:

  • A close relationship to one of the trial attorneys
  • A family member employed by one of the parties
  • A direct financial interest in the trial outcome

There is no limit on the number of times either side may challenge a juror for cause.

The prosecution and the defense can also exercise a limited number of “peremptory challenges”. Peremptory challenges can be exercised by either side on any basis, except classifications such as race or gender.

Petit jury v.  Grand jury

Defendants being tried in a criminal or civil matter will face a petit jury, which listens to the evidence and returns a verdict. A grand jury, which is comprised of approximately 16 to 23 citizens, does not decide on someone’s innocence or guilt. Rather, they determine whether or not there is probable cause to conclude that a crime was committed. For a grand jury to hear evidence, at least 16 members must be present. If at least 12 jurors agree that probable cause exists, they will return an indictment, which is a written statement of the charges.

Julie Rendelman is an experienced criminal defense attorney. She has handled jury trials involving high-profile homicides both as a prosecutor and defense lawyer. She offers free consultations and can be reached at 212-951-1232. Visit to learn more about Ms. Rendelman’s expertise.