Inside the Jury Box: An In-Depth Look at the Jury Selection Process and Its Crucial Elements

April 18, 2024

Inside the Jury Box: An In-Depth Look at the Jury Selection Process and Its Crucial Elements


  • Voir dire - What is it and how does it work
  • Strikes - How many individuals can be stricken by the court teams
  • Jury Size - Why are there so many alternates

Inside the Jury Box: An In-Depth Look at the Jury Selection Process and Its Crucial Elements

  • Jury Selection: How does it work
  • Voir dire: What is it
  • Jury size: Why are there alternates
Jury selection

By Daniel Brunner | Chief Operating Officer | Brunner Sierra Group

During my tenure as an FBI Agent, I had the privilege of collaborating with some of the most esteemed United States Attorneys, not only in the District of New Jersey but throughout the Department of Justice. In both 2016 and 2021, two of my RICO investigations went to trial, leading me through the comprehensive process of a full trial. Both trials achieved complete convictions. Today, however, I am here to provide you a behind the scenes look of the intricate process of jury selection.

Jury Selection

Jury selection, a crucial part of the legal process in many criminal and civil trials, involves several intricate steps designed to ensure a fair and impartial jury. This phase of the trial, known as voir dire, along with the policies around "strikes," the number of jurors seated, and the use of alternates, are fundamental to the integrity and functionality of the judicial system.

Voir Dire: The Process of Questioning

Voir dire, which means "to speak the truth" in French, is the process by which attorneys from both the defense and prosecution question potential jurors. The aim is to ascertain their suitability for the jury, looking for any biases or preconceptions that might affect their impartiality. During voir dire, attorneys may ask potential jurors about their backgrounds, beliefs, and any connections to the crime, parties, or attorneys involved.

The judge also plays a significant role in this phase, often beginning with a basic questionnaire that covers essential eligibility requirements, such as understanding the language, residency status, and whether the potential jurors have any disabilities that might preclude them from serving.

Strikes and Jury Composition

During jury selection, both sides have tools called "strikes" to shape the jury. There are generally two types of strikes: peremptory and for cause. A strike for cause is used to remove a juror who exhibits obvious bias or inability to serve impartially, with no limit to the number of these strikes each side can use.

Peremptory strikes, however, are limited and do not require the side using them to provide a reason. However, they cannot be used to discriminate based on race, gender, or ethnicity. Typically, each side has about 3 to 6 peremptory strikes, but this number can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the case.

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The Typical Jury Size and the Role of Alternates

In most criminal cases, 12 jurors are seated — a tradition stemming from English common law. However, the number can vary, with some civil cases and lesser criminal cases using as few as six jurors. The decision on the number of jurors usually reflects the trial's complexity and duration.

Alternates are selected to ensure that a complete jury is still in place by the end of the trial, should any original jurors be unable to continue (due to illness, personal emergencies, or being dismissed by the judge for other reasons). The number of alternates chosen depends on the expected trial length and the potential for juror attrition.

Confidentiality of Juror Identities

The identities of jurors are often kept confidential to protect their privacy and ensure their safety, especially in high-profile or controversial cases where emotions and media attention run high. This anonymity helps prevent any external pressures or harassment that could influence the jurors' impartiality and decision-making. It also reduces the risk of retribution against jurors after a trial concludes, thus upholding the integrity of their deliberation and verdict.

Jury selection is a foundational aspect of the legal system, designed to ensure fairness and impartiality in the trial process. Through voir dire, the strategic use of strikes, the careful determination of jury size, and the inclusion of alternates, the courts strive to assemble a jury capable of delivering a just verdict. The privacy afforded to jurors further supports the fairness of the judicial process, emphasizing the system's commitment to justice and equity. Understanding these elements helps illuminate why jury selection is more than just a preliminary step — it is integral to the justice system's very essence.