Step 1: Selection of a Jury
When a jury trial is about to begin, the trial court judge requests a panel of prospective jurors to be sent to the courtroom from the jury assembly room so that the jury selection process can begin. After reporting to a courtroom, the prospective jurors are first required to swear that they will truthfully answer all questions asked about their qualifications to serve as jurors in the case.
The perjury admonishment, which basically requires potential jurors to tell the truth when answering the questions, is read as follows:
- "Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will accurately and truthfully answer, under penalty of perjury, all questions propounded to you concerning your qualifications and competency to serve as a trial juror in the matter pending before this court, and that failure to do so may subject you to criminal prosecution?
The court clerk calls 12 or more jurors to take seats in the jury box. The judge speaks to the jurors, telling them the names of the people involved in the case and their attorneys and stating what the case is about. The judge and the attorneys ask jurors questions to determine if the jurors are free of bias (prejudice) or whether there is any other reason why any of them cannot be fair and impartial; this process is called voir dire.
It is important to ask questions if you do not understand a question. Also, each juror is obligated to follow the law as explained by the judge; if you can not follow the law, you need to let the judge know. The law lets the judge and the lawyers excuse individual jurors from service in a particular case for various reasons. If a lawyer wants to have a juror excused, he or she must use a "challenge" to excuse the juror. Challenges can be for cause or peremptory. There are unlimited challenges for cause and 10 in criminal cases (20 in death penalty) and 6 in civil cases (Code of Civil Procedure section 231).
The process of questioning and excusing jurors continues until 12 persons are accepted as jurors for the trial. Alternate jurors may also be selected. The judge and attorneys agree that these jurors are qualified to decide impartially and intelligently the factual issues in the case.
When the selection of the jury is completed, the jurors take the following oath:
- "Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will well and truly try the cause now pending before this court, and a true verdict render according only to the evidence presented to you and to the instructions of the court?"
As a juror you should think seriously about the oath before taking it. The oath means you give your word to reach your verdict upon only the evidence presented in the trial and the court's instructions about the law. You cannot consider any other evidence or instruction other than those given by the court in the case before you. Remember that your role as a juror is as important as the judge's in making sure that justice is done.