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Is it Possible to Have Unbiased Jurors in High-Profile Criminal Cases?

In criminal proceedings, a defendant is permitted to request to be tried in front of a jury of his or her peers. It is a constitutional right and one that many believe allows for the human heart and sympathy to enter into the legal sphere. But there are times when having a jury of one’s peers can actually backfire on the defendant, especially in cases where the defendant is famous or is involved in a high-profile case. With the increased spread of the Internet and media, it has become very difficult to keep potential jurors from being made aware of the various news items that may be the case in which they try later.

Voir Dire In Criminal Proceedings

Generally in jury trials, potential jurors who have been called to appear for jury duty are examined and cross-examined by the judge and the attorneys active in a criminal case. The process is called “voir dire” and the purpose is to eradicate biased jurors from cases and to help make sure that the jurors are the peers of the defendant. Having a fair and impartial jury is the foundation of our criminal justice system and going through the voir dire process for every trial helps to provide defendants with as fair of a trial as possible.

Selection of Potential Jurors

The first few questions that every potential juror must answer is if he or she either knows the defendant, the case, or potentially has a stake in the outcome of the trial. For example, the sister of the defendant would not be admitted as a potential juror if her identity and link to the defendant has been established. On the same side of the coin, a relative of the victim in which the criminal proceedings are centered around would also not be permitted to serve on the jury.

Voir Dire in High-Profile Cases

It is hard enough to find unbiased jurors for low-profile cases; but what about in high-profiled cases? Over the last couple of years, there have been quite a few appeals brought forth by defendants who were tried, claiming that the jury was not made up of a fair and impartial group. This issue has been relevant in cases where the defendant is famous (like in the case of NFL player Aaron Hernandez) or when the case is well-known (like in the cases of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle shooter Eddie Ray Routh and the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev).

Media Perceptions Can Ruin Objectivity in Jurors

When the media publishes information about a compelling crime that occurred, there is not usually one story that reflects an objective showing of the facts. Instead, many writers and journalists jump on the piece, create buzz and buzz words reflecting subjective opinions regarding the case and the defendant, and very soon it becomes impossible to separate the Boston Marathon bomber Tsarnaev from being called a “terrorist” and Routh a “patriot murderer.”

What Can Judges Do to Minimize Biased Jurors?

This situation brings about the question of what the criminal justice system can do to provide high-profile defendants with juries of their peers. Judges, presiding over the case, can:

  • sequester potential jurors as much as possible from reading the news, flipping through social media, and discussing the case with friends and family;
  • question each potential juror thoroughly and find out the extent to which the juror is aware of the defendant and the information that he or she has received since the criminal act occurred;
  • question the potential juror if he or she could be fair or impartial and if he or she has any reason that he or she would be of one opinion or another (one example would be ensuring that he or she never had a relative who was murdered or whether he or she was in the military and experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder); and
  • in extreme cases, move the case to another jurisdiction that was not so deeply and intimately affected by the criminal act, such as not trying the Boston Marathon bomber in Boston where the act occurred.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

A defendant has the right to a fair and impartial trial. An experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can distinguish the biased jurors from the unbiased jurors and ensure that you have access to a fair trial. Contact the Law Offices of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation.

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