What is a Jury Trial in a Criminal Case in California?
During a jury trial in Santa Clara County, a group of people (jurors) hear the evidence and legal arguments, decide the facts of the case, and determine whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty.
The judge is not involved in determining the verdict in a jury trial. Their role is to oversee the proceedings to ensure they follow the correct procedure and rule on any legal issues.
The right to a trial by a jury is protected by the Sixth Amendment, which says in a criminal case, “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury”.
However, there are some limits to this right. Jury trials are only available for “serious” offenses (where the potential penalty is more than six months imprisonment). This is why it's important to have a criminal defense attorney from The Geller Firm representing you. Call 415-840-0570 today to schedule a consultation about your case.
How are Santa Clara County Jury Members Selected?
A jury is chosen from a pool of randomly selected people in a process called voir dire. During voir dire, the judge, prosecution, and defense ask potential jurors questions to assess their suitability to hear a case.
A judge can excuse jurors who are not legally qualified to serve on a jury or if doing so would cause undue hardship for them, for example, where they are the sole carer for a sick family member. A judge can also excuse a juror with an actual or implied bias that prevents them from performing their role impartially.
The prosecution and defense can ask for certain jurors to be removed by making “for cause” and peremptory challenges.
Challenge for Cause
Either the prosecution or defense may make a challenge for cause if there is a legal basis for why a juror cannot serve, for example, because of a bias revealed during the questioning of the juror.
When a side makes a challenge for cause, they must give the reason for it. The parties are usually allowed an unlimited number of challenges for cause.
The prosecution and defense can also make a limited number of peremptory challenges to exclude a juror without providing a reason. However, a party cannot make a peremptory challenge based on race, ethnicity, or sex. If it appears this has occurred, the opposing side can object to the challenge.
Challenges are heard and decided by the judge during a process called “striking the jury.” Once the prosecution and defense have exhausted their challenges or both sides are happy with the jury, the jury is sworn in.
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
In a criminal case in California, the prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, if a jury is convinced that there is no other reasonable explanation that can be drawn from the evidence presented to them during the trial, they must find the defendant guilty.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney in Santa Clara County Can Strategically Use a Jury Trial
The jury selection process is an important step in preparing your defense. An experienced criminal defense attorney at The Geller Firm knows what questions to ask potential jurors to gauge who may be more sympathetic to your circumstances. They can also assess and seek to exclude any biased jurors to ensure you receive a fair trial.
To schedule a consultation to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, call 415-840-0570 today, or simply fill out our online submission form.