Picking a jury in criminal cases in New York is a complicated matter. No one wants to end up with the “wrong juror” on the case. The process of examination of prospective jurors is controlled by the NY Criminal Procedure law which is explained below.
If no challenge to the panel’s made, or if the challenge is made and disallowed, the court will direct that the names of no less than twelve members of the panel will be drawn and called as prescribed by the judiciary law. These people will take their places in the jury box and be immediately sworn to answer truthfully questions asked of them relative to their qualifications to serve as jurors in the action. In its discretion, the court might require prospective jurors to complete a questionnaire that concerns their ability to serve as fair and impartial jurors, including but not limited to place of birth, current address, education, occupation, prior jury service, knowledge of, relationship to, or contact with the court, any party, witness or attorney in the action, and really any other fact relevant to his or her service on the actual jury. An official form for this questionnaire will be developed by the chief administrator of the courts in consultation with the administrative board of the courts. A copy of the questionnaires completed by the members of the panel will be given to the court, as well as each attorney before examination of the prospective jurors.
The court will begin the examination of prospective jurors by identifying the parties and their counsel, and then briefly outlining the nature of the case to all the prospective jurors. The court will then put to the members of the panel who have been sworn and to any prospective jurors subsequently sworn, questions that affect their qualifications to serve as jurors in the action.
The court will allow both parties to examine the prospective jurors, individually or collectively, in regards to their qualifications to serve as jurors. Each party will be given a fair opportunity to question the prospective jurors regarding any unexplored matter affecting their qualifications, but the court will not allow questioning that’s repetitive or irrelevant, or questions as to a juror’s knowledge of rules of law. If necessary to prevent improper questioning, the court will personally examine the prospective jurors. The scope of this examination will be in the court’s discretion. After the parties conclude their examinations of the prospective jurors, the court might ask further questions as it deems proper regarding the qualifications of the prospective jurors.
The court can for good cause shown, on motion of either party issue a protective order for a stated period that regulates disclosure of the address of any prospective or sworn juror to anyone, other than to counsel for either party. Such good cause will exist where the court determines there’s a likelihood of bribery, jury tampering, or physical injury/harassment of the juror.
On completion of examination by both parties, each, starting with the people, can challenge a prospective juror for cause. If this challenge is allowed, the prospective juror must be excluded from service. After both parties have had an opportunity to challenge for cause, the court has to allow them to peremptorily challenge any remaining prospective juror, and such juror must be excluded from service. The people must exercise their peremptory challenges first and may not make a challenge to any remaining prospective juror who’s then in the jury box. If either party requests, challenges for cause must be made and determined, and peremptory challenges must be made, within the courtroom but outside of the hearing of the prospective jurors in a manner as not to disclose which party actually made the challenge. The prospective jurors who aren’t excluded from service must retain their place in the jury box and be immediately sworn as trial jurors. They must be sworn to try the action in a just and impartial way, to the best of their judgment, and to render a verdict according to the law and the evidence.
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