Many lawyers believe that jury selection, or “Voir Dire” is the most important part of any jury trial. Obviously, jury selection is important because it decides who is going to sit in judgment of a trial. Jury selection is also important because it is very first impression that a jury receives about the issues involved in a case. Also, jury selection is the first opportunity that attorneys have to make a positive, or negative, impression on a jury.
There are very specific rules that control jury selection in the state of Texas. Texas juries consist of 12 people in district court and 6 people in county court. In criminal cases, district courts hear felonies and county courts hear misdemeanors. Generally speaking, in civil cases district courts hear cases where a large amount of money is at stake and county courts hear cases where less money is at stake. There are many specific types of cases that are required to be heard in either district or county court regardless of the dollar value at stake.
In district court, the judge will generally call in between 60-80 people to serve on the jury panel. The judge will usually give the jury panel some opening remarks, comments and instructions. After this, each side will receive some amount of time, usually between 30 minutes and 2 hours to ask questions of the potential jurors. After this questioning, both sides have an opportunity to ask the judge to eliminate particular jurors based on their answers. This is called a “challenge for cause”.
If a juror has said something that makes the judge think that they, as a matter of law, can not be fair jurors, then the judge will exclude them from the jury. After all the “challenges for cause” have been decided by the judge, each side has 10 “peremptory challenges” that they can use on the jury panel (3 in county court).
A “peremptory challenge” allows either side to remove a prospective juror from the jury. However, “peremptory challenges” can not be made on the basis of race or gender. After the judge removes jurors from the jury panel because of the challenges for cause, the first 32 potential jurors of the remaining jurors have a chance of making the jury. That is because 12 jurors will be selected for the jury and up to 20 will be excluded by the parties (10 each). In county court, the first 12 jurors will have a chance of being on the jury. 6 jurors and each side can eliminate 3.
There are many specific rules that must be followed during Texas jury selection. The attorneys are not allowed to tell the jurors any facts about the case. Also, the attorneys may not ask a question of a juror asking them how they would vote if certain facts were proven. This is known as a “commitment question” and unless the question is carefully worded it can be an improper commitment question that may not be asked.