Criminal Jury Trial

Jury Duty

June 27, 2024

Contributor: Adam Justinger


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be on a jury? Have you ever been summoned for jury duty? Oftentimes as lawyers, we get asked how to get out of jury duty. While this is normally said in a joking manner, it is important to understand how important jury duty is in our society. As a citizen, it is your civic duty to serve on a jury when called.

Although jury duty can cause disruptions in your everyday life, it is extremely important to the judicial system. Imagine if you or a loved one was a plaintiff or defendant in a case. Wouldn’t you want a jury of your peers to take the matter seriously? Although jury duty does take time, it often turns out to be a rewarding experience. This blog is intended to be the first part of a series discussing jury duty in criminal trials.

Summoned To Jury Duty

When an individual is summoned to jury duty, they have to report to the courthouse. Once they arrive, they will be greeted by court staff. After some housekeeping matters, the jury will be brought into the courtroom. At this point, jury selection, commonly referred to as voir dire, will begin.

Voir Dire

Voir dire is French and means “to speak the truth.” The process of voir dire or jury selection is to question jurors to determine their suitability for jury service. First, the jurors are placed under oath subject to the penalty of perjury. Then, the judge starts off by asking basic questions. This can include information about your age, where you reside, whether you are a U.S. citizen, if you can read and write, if you can understand the English language, if you’ve served on a jury in the past, etc. The preliminary questions are designed to ensure that the panel is eligible to serve on the jury. The judge may also ask if you know the parties, their attorneys, or any of the witnesses.

After the judge completes their questions, the attorneys for each side get to question the jurors. In criminal matters, the defendant goes first. This is the only time during a criminal trial that the defense gets to go first. The questions the parties ask vary depending on the case. The purpose of the questions is to find a fair and impartial jury.

Fair And Impartial Jury

A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to an impartial jury. During my voir dire, I normally start with an example about why we do voir dire/jury selection. Let’s say the trial was about whether to buy a dog or a cat as a pet. Over the course of my life, I have owned numerous dogs as pets. However, I have never owned a cat. While I would do everything in my power to be fair and unbiased during that trial, naturally, I would have a bias towards the dog because of my life experience. Now, if the facts are changed even the slightest bit, that may change; if the trial was whether to get a snake or a lizard as a pet, I’ve owned neither and would likely not have any bias towards either side.

While this may seem like a silly example, it captures the reason we do voir dire. If the defendant is on trial for DUI, would you want a juror who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver? If the criminal trial involves guns, would you want a juror who is anti-firearms? If the case involves narcotics, would you want a juror who has lost a friend to an overdose? The simple answer to each of these questions is no. Although everyone tries to be fair and impartial, for some jurors it is impossible to set all of your biases aside. That’s ok, not every case is for everyone.

Be Truthful

This is where the truth becomes critical. Earlier I said that it is a person’s civic duty to serve on a jury when called upon. However, it is also your civic duty to recognize when jury duty may not be right for you due to the nature of the case. If you believe that you will not be able to set your biases or life experiences aside, you must inform the court/parties. If that is the case, either the court or the parties may “strike you for cause.” I want to be very clear, this is not a bad thing. It just means that this may not be the right trial for you.

Oftentimes when a party attempts to strike a juror for cause, either judges or the attorneys will ask follow up questions. One of the most common questions I hear judges ask is “If I order you to follow the law, will you follow it?” Naturally, people want to say yes when a judge asks this question. After all, judges are in a position of authority. But remember, you are under oath. So, be truthful and if you cannot set your biases or life experiences to the side, make that clear because it is your duty to do so.


After the court and the parties ask all their questions, the parties each get peremptory strikes. These strikes allow the parties to remove people until there is a sufficient number of jurors. In felony cases, there are twelve (12) jurors. In misdemeanor cases, there are generally six (6) jurors but in some misdemeanor cases, you can request a jury of twelve (12). These strikes cannot be based on age, race, sex, religion, or other protected classes. After the strikes are exercised by the parties, there should be a sufficient number of jurors to proceed with trial.

In Conclusion

Criminal jury trials are extremely important to our system. When a criminal case goes to trial, an individual’s life is on the line. It is important that you take the matter seriously and answer the questions truthfully. If you need assistance with a criminal trial in North Dakota or Minnesota please contact SW&L Attorneys at 701-297-2890. For future articles, check out our blog. This article is for informational purposes only and is subject to our disclaimer.