Right to a Jury / How Juries are Selected
While trials by jury are often presented in movies and on television as a natural outcome to criminal charges, the truth is that relatively few cases ever go to trial. Typically, either plea agreements are reached with alleged offenders or charges are dismissed entirely.
When pre-trial negotiations do not result in a resolution, the prosecution and the defense go to trial.
One of the most important aspects of the trial takes place when the prosecution and the defense select the jury.
Houston Jury Selection Lawyer
The jury selection process is formally known as voir dire. The term is technically pronounced as “vwah deer,” but frequently pronounced—especially in Texas—as “vorr dyer.” Jury selection is not only important for the two sides picking the prospective jurors, but it also represents the first impressions that each attorney will make on these jurors.
Harris County trial attorney Matt Horak understands how this process requires a delicate but effective strategy. Matt Horak’s previous experience as a prosecutor gives him a unique perspective on how to pick a jury that is most likely to deliver a favorable verdict for his client.
Horak Law serves numerous communities in and around Harris County, including Sugar Land, Pasadena, Missouri City, Conroe, League City, Pearland, The Woodlands, Spring, Richmond-Rosenberg, and Galveston. You can receive a complete review of your case during a confidential consultation by calling our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 right now.
Harris County Voir Dire Information Center
- Who serves on juries in criminal cases?
- Are there ways to have certain jurors removed?
- What is a jury shuffle?
- Is there anywhere I can find additional information about being a juror?
A prospective juror will receive an official jury summons that includes his or her name, juror number, and date, time, and address of service in the mail from the county in which he or she is a resident. Jurors are selected randomly from a list of eligible jurors. For example, Harris County uses a list comprised of the county’s voter and driver registration information.
All jurors report to the Jury Assembly Room at the location and time specified on their jury summonses. A judge administers the oath to all the jurors present and also provides a brief overview of jury service in addition to answering any questions.
The judge also speaks individually to any jurors requesting exemptions from jury service. Jurors can also establish exemptions without appearing in person by filing signed statements with the clerk of the court at any time before the date they have been summoned to appear. Some of the possible reasons a juror may be exempt would be if he or she:
- Has legal custody of a child or children younger than 12 years of age who would not have adequate supervision;
- Has served as a petit juror in the county during the 24-month period prior to the date of the summons;
- Is a student at a public or private high school or is enrolled and attending college;
- Is over 70 years of age; or
- Is the primary caretaker of a person who is an invalid unable to care for himself or herself.
Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 35.11, the judge causes a sufficient number of jurors from which a jury may be selected to try the case to be randomly selected from the members of the general panel drawn or assigned as jurors in the case.
The clerk then randomly selects the jurors by a computer or other process of random selection and writes or prints the names on the jury list from which the jury is to be selected to try the case.
The lawyers for both sides are allowed to question potential jurors and possibly have certain jurors removed. Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor may use one of two types of challenged to have certain jurors removed from the jury pool.
Challenges for Cause
A challenge for cause is an objection made to a particular juror, alleging some fact that renders the juror incapable or unfit to serve on the jury. Each side gets an unlimited number of challenges for cause, but the judge needs to approve the basis for each challenge.
Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 35.16, the state or the defense is allowed to make a challenge for cause for any of the following reasons:
- Juror is not qualified voter in state and county;
- Juror has been convicted of misdemeanor theft or a felony;
- Juror is under indictment or other legal accusation for misdemeanor theft or a felony;
- Juror is insane;
- Juror has bodily or mental defect or disease that renders him or her unfit for jury service in that particular case;
- Juror is a witness in the case;
- Juror served on the grand jury which found the indictment;
- Juror served on a petit jury in a former trial of the same case;
- Juror has a bias or prejudice in favor of or against the defendant;
- A conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the alleged offender is established in the mind of the juror that would influence him or her in finding a verdict; or
- Juror cannot read or write.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are also allowed to make peremptory challenges, which allow them to strike jurors for no specified reasons. However, each side is only allowed a certain number of these challenges.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 35.15 establishes the following limits for peremptory challenges:
- In non-capital felony cases, each side gets 10 peremptory challenges (if two or more alleged offenders are tried together, both sides are entitled to six peremptory challenges for each alleged offender);
- Each side is entitled to five peremptory challenges in a misdemeanor tried in the district court and three peremptory challenges in the county court or county court at law (if two or more alleged offenders are tried together, both sides are entitled to three peremptory challenges for each alleged offender);
- Each side is entitled to one additional peremptory challenge against an alternate juror if one or two alternate jurors are to be impaneled and two peremptory challenges against alternate jurors if three or four alternate jurors are to be impaneled.
While no reason generally needs to be given for peremptory challenges, these types of challenges cannot be used for discriminatory reasons such as race, ethnicity, or gender bias. Under the Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky, a lawyer may be forced to articulate a bias-neutral reason for a peremptory challenge if the opposing attorney makes a Batson challenge objecting to the validity of the challenge.
The size of the jury pool can vary depending on the type of criminal case, and the way the jurors are seated in the jury pool is completely random. Typically, the people who are seated at the front of the pool are the ones who are chosen to serve on the jury.
Both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer are allowed one shuffle of how these jurors are seated. This can be an especially useful tool but is one that must be utilized before either side has had the opportunity to directly question jurors.
The prosecution or defense has to use its jury shuffle before voir dire begins—which is generally after the jury panel has been sworn in and given instructions under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 226a. A shuffle is usually called for after each side has had the chance to review the jury questionnaires.
Texas Judicial Branch - Jury Service in Texas — This Texas courts informational website provides an overview of serving as a juror in the Lone Star State, from receiving a jury summons to the jury selection process to what you should expect on your first day of service. There is also information about qualifications, exemptions, and compensation.
Jury Service Toolkit - State Bar of Texas — This resource guide from the State Bar of Texas also provides an overview of the jury service process. You will find a basic outline of the trial process, answers to frequently asked questions, talking points, and online resources.
Find a Jury Selection Lawyer in Houston
Criminal trials can be won or lost with the selection of jurors. If you are forced to take your own criminal case to trial, make sure that you have experienced legal counsel who knows how to achieve the best possible result. As a former Harris County Assistant District Attorney, Matt Horak is a criminal defense lawyer in Houston, TX who has overseen jury selection from both sides of the aisle.
Horak Law represents clients throughout Brazoria County, Galveston County, Montgomery County, Waller County, Liberty County, Harris County, and Fort Bend County. You can have our Harris County trial attorney evaluate your case and answer your questions about criminal procedure in Texas by contacting our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 for a initial consultation.