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Who Can Be a DUI Juror?

The United States Constitution does not forbid states from establishing relevant qualifications for DUI jurors.

Therefore, states remain free to restrict jury service to persons holding citizenship in the United States, and limit the jury “pool” to persons meeting specified qualifications of age and educational attainment, and to those possessing great intelligence, sound judgment, and fair character.

Under federal law, jurors must be able to speak the English language and to read, write, and understand English with sufficient proficiency to satisfactorily complete the juror qualification form.

A common requirement or qualification in most states is that a juror be a qualified elector or voter of the county or district in which the trial will be held.

If this is the case, because people who have been convicted of a felony in the past may not have regained the right to vote, they may be eliminated from serving on a jury. Most jurisdictions have “jury commissioners” who oversee the county’s jury pool, and they search various public databases (such as motor vehicle records or registered voter records) to locate and summon for jury service all eligible and “qualified” residents.

Can my DUI lawyer pick all the jurors?

No. At the start of your DUI jury trial, both the prosecutor and your attorney get a chance to eliminate jurors from a larger pool based on several factors, to form the actual 6 to 12 person jury that will serve for your trial. This concept of “elimination” rather than “picking” jurors may surprise you, since some people think that each lawyer gets to ADD selective jurors to the ultimate panel.

Prospective jurors can be eliminated from the jury by the judge or the attorneys either “for cause” or based on a “peremptory challenge.” These concepts are explained below.

A challenge “for cause” is a request that a prospective juror be dismissed due to a specific and important reason that the person (based upon answers given to questions) cannot be fair, unbiased or capable of serving impartially as a juror. “Cause” may include close acquaintanceship with the parties (you or the prosecutor’s staff), one of the attorneys or a witness.

“Cause” may be derived from state statutes that require that certain categories of “employment” will disqualify a prospective juror in a criminal case (i.e., a person who is an active law enforcement officer or the spouse of such an officer). A potential juror’s expression of an inability to be unbiased and impartial due to a prior negative experience in a similar case can lead to his or her removal.

A potential juror’s answers showing an obvious prejudice or an inability to serve due to any mental condition, inability to hear well or a language barrier can lead to exclusion.

Can the judge overrule the lawyer’s picks?

The judge determines if the person shall be dismissed, but the judge can abuse this discretion, which can cause a reversal of your DUI conviction if it is appealed to a higher court.

The judge’s discretion is not without limits to his or her rulings, however, and a judge can create reversible error if he or she refuses to remove a juror for cause when statutory grounds based on constitutional fairness (due process) dictate that the juror should have been removed.

Some states’ decisional law (from appellate cases) are more favorable to the accused than the law in other states. An unlimited number of challenges for cause can be raised, disallowing anyone who falls into one of the above categories from serving on your jury.

What is a peremptory challenge?

A peremptory challenge is the right of the prosecutor and the defendant in a jury trial to have a juror dismissed before trial without stating a reason. Experienced trial attorneys develop a sort of “sixth sense” for knowing when a juror is “against” his or her client’s case. The decision to remove a juror may come down to a lack of eye contact, negative body language or a reluctance to answer questions fully or “believably.”

The number of peremptory challenges for each side is controlled by state law, the number of parties on trial in a case (usually only one defendant in a DUI-DWI trial), and in some states, whether it is a misdemeanor DUI or felony DUI.

The selection process may be by the use of “silent” strikes, where the list of qualified jurors is passed back and forth between the attorneys, with the prosecutor striking first, then your attorney, and then alternating “strikes.” Another method is for the attorneys to either “accept” or “excuse” each juror, starting with number 1 and progressing until a jury of either 6 or 12 is selected (as required by state law).

Peremptory challenges must be based on some other reason than race or gender. Either side can challenge any pattern of eliminating jurors based on race or gender alone, without having a legitimate, identifiable “dislike” about the juror’s background or answers during the jury selection questioning session.

Further Reading

To learn more about DUI jury trials, take a look at some of our in-depth articles on the subject below: