Criminal Law

Excluding Jurors: Removing and Disqualifying

Jurors in a criminal trial are responsible for determining whether an accused individual, or defendant, is guilty or not guilty of a charged crime. In order to be fair to the defendant, they must be impartial and only take into account the evidence presented at trial. This fairness on the part of the jurors must be present from the jury selection all the way to the jury deliberations.

Since the jury must remain impartial, there are certain circumstances in which a juror may be disqualified and removed from the trial. This may happen at any time of the trial, including during jury selection. The main goal of the court is to provide the defendant with a jury that'll decide the criminal issues with fairness.

Disqualification during the Jury Selection

Potential jurors may be disqualified from serving on a jury for a variety of reasons. Some reasons may be based on an individual's biases that would prevent him from being impartial. Bias can result from:

  • Negative pretrial publicity
  • A connection to law enforcement
  • Being a victim in a similar case
  • A past connection with someone involved in the trial

Other reasons to disqualify potential jurors may be their failure to satisfy certain mandatory legal requirements to serve on a jury. Some examples of people who may be disqualified include:

  • People who aren't citizens of the US
  • People who can't speak English
  • People who're incapable of jury service because of a mental or physical problem
  • People who've been convicted of a crime and their civil rights haven't been restored

Disqualification During the Trial

Once an individual is chosen for the jury, he must remain free of bias and follow the instructions of the court. If a juror fails to do this, he may be disqualified and removed from the jury. The court can excuse a juror at any time for good cause. This gives the court broad discretion to disqualify a juror.

There are many different reasons why a court may disqualify a juror during the trial. Since each court has the discretion whether to remove a juror, actions by a juror that may get him removed in one court wouldn't get him removed in another court. Some examples of reasons why a juror may be disqualified include:

  • Misconduct
  • Sleeping during the trial
  • Absence or lateness
  • Illness
  • Urgent matters that require the juror to leave
  • Actual or presumed bias
  • Contact with the defendant
  • Bringing outside information into the jury room
  • Purposefully refusing to apply the law as instructed by the court
  • Inability to concentrate

A court must make sure not to remove a juror just for disagreeing with the other jurors as to the sufficiency of the evidence. However, a juror can't improperly make up his mind prior to the beginning of jury deliberations and refuse to engage in deliberations with the other jurors. All jurors have a duty to deliberate.

Replacement of a Juror

If a juror is removed, the court has several options on how to continue the trial. The most common option is to replace the removed juror with an alternate juror. These jurors are selected to replace regular jurors in case they're unable to perform their jury duties. Alternate jurors are questioned and selected in the same manner as the regular jurors.

If there are no alternate jurors, the defendant may agree to a reduced jury. States vary as to how many people need to be on a jury for a valid verdict. If the defendant refuses to agree to a smaller jury, or the jury is smaller than the minimum number required in the state, the court must declare a mistrial. This means that the trial is terminated without a verdict. The prosecution can charge the defendant again for the same crime and have another trial.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If I find out my child is in a car accident while I am on a jury, will the court dismiss me and let me leave the trial? Does it matter how bad my child is injured?
  • During jury selection, if I told the court I never met the defendant, but later realized I did, will the court disqualify and remove me from the jury?
  • Would I be disqualified if I took notes during the trial and used them during jury deliberations to help decide whether the defendant was guilty? What if I used newspaper articles?
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