In Minnesota, a civil jury trial is usually consists of seven jurors. For a number of years, the seventh juror was an alternate. But, after enduring years of complaints from people who sat through the whole trial only to be told to go home before deliberation, it was decided that all jurors would deliberate. In longer trials, the court and the attorneys will increase the number to ensure that they don’t ever end up with less then six, in the cases where a juror can’t last though the trial.
The process for selecting the jury is calling four more jurors than are necessary from the jury pool. The judge, followed by the defense attorney and finally the plaintiff’s attorney will then question the panel. Not to embarrass them , but to see if there is anyone with an obvious bias to the case itself or the overall issues involved. If a person is found to have a bias the judge may dismiss them for cause. A new person is then called from the pool.
After all of the questions, the two sides , starting with the defendant, alternately each strike two jurors. I make this choice by asking my client who they want to strike, getting advice from members of my staff who are watching the trial , and finally relying upon my own gut.
Recently, the New York Times looked at the peremptory strikes for the reasons used to dismiss the juror. Particularly, the article pointed out that race, gender or ethnicity were not to be used in making strikes, but almost anything else was allowable. The article concluded with the thought that a good solution might be to reduce these strikes because the wrong reasons are used to strike jurors.
Personally, I had a number of jurors dismissed through the initial questions. While I can’t ask them, it often seems that the jurors know the case isn’t the right one for them and that they really don’t belong on that particular panel. I’m thankful for the jurors who answer the questions in a straightforward manner. It is much better than hearing after the trial that one of the jurors knew a party, was involved in the case issues, or was on the jury with a particular agenda. Occasionally, you will hear one of those jurors calling Rush with the news that they were able to get on and screw a plaintiff. I guess that juror missed the point when they swore to tell the truth and follow the law.
The present system relies heavily upon the information that is gained through the questioning that is done. If peremptory challenges were eliminated or reduced, it would make those questions even more important. Before the questions, we get basic information including name, age, city of residence, job, number of children and spousal information. With out the chance to ask the necessary questions, all we would be doing is making random prejudicial guess about people.
A founding partner with Bradshaw & Bryant, Mike Bryant has always fought to find justice for his clients—knowing that legal troubles, both personal injury and criminal, can be devastating for a family. Voted a Top 40 Personal Injury "Super Lawyer" multiple years, Mr. Bryant has also been voted one of the Top 100 Minnesota "Super Lawyers" four times.