When a personal injury claim is being prepared for trial, it is easy for accident victims to focus on the evidence or expert testimony that will be presented on their behalf. However, one critical item a personal injury attorney will focus on is that of jury selection. As one of the most pivotal moments in a personal injury trial, jury selection is one of the few processes that can impact a trial so dramatically.
Jury selection involves a complex set of rules and procedures. While in theory all defendants are guaranteed a jury of their peers, the right is still balanced with the plaintiff’s right to strike jurors or challenge those jurors that do not appear to be in their favor. Selecting a jury is a skill in and of itself. While an attorney can request a juror be stricken, the final decision is left to the trial judge. If there is reasonable doubt as to the juror’s impartiality, they should be stricken, but not all judges agree about a juror’s bias.
Voir dire (Latin for “to speak the truth”) is the initial stage of a jury trial. This stage allows the defendant and plaintiff’s attorneys to ask potential jurors questions to determine whether or not they would be impartial for the civil lawsuit presented before them.The plaintiff’s attorney goes first in voir dire. They will introduce panel members to the case using basic information. No evidence is introduced at this time; instead, the attorney will ask the panel members questions in order to determine if there is a potential bias on the part of a juror. After the plaintiff’s attorney has asked their questions, the defendant’s attorney has the opportunity to do the same. The defense’s goal will be to ensure no juror selected has an obvious sympathy to the plaintiff.
After each side has completed their questioning, the attorneys are then allowed to present their challenges. This is when each attorney will ask the judge to strike a potential juror stating their expressed bias. The judge is present during the voir dire; therefore, he or she will listen to the questions and answers for each panel member. This allows the judge the opportunity to make a fair ruling during the challenge stage of the selection process.
The judge will typically strike any juror that verbally expresses bias; however, it is not as easy to strike a juror that does not outrightly express their bias. Both sides can also exercise peremptory challenges, which allow them to strike a number of jurors for non-discriminatory reasons. These challenges are based on the experiences of the attorney and their skill at selecting jurors. Florida courts allow limited peremptory challenges; therefore, an attorney will need to be cautious about which jurors they remove.