Child Molestation: Part II: Going to trial and selecting a jury
You are going to trial on charges of child molestation. What happens next?
What happens after my case is assigned to trial?On the day you are scheduled for trial, you will appear at a trial assignment calendar and be assigned by the presiding judge to a trial court where your trial will take place. Your attorney and the DA will meet with the trial judge in their chambers to discuss your case, to file any appropriate in limine motions and a trial brief and to discuss scheduling, the expected length of trial, potential witnesses, any evidentiary issues and prior settlement negotiations, Once that is done, your case will be called and the attorneys will go "on the record" which means the trial actually starts with the court reporter taking down the proceedings and the parties seated at counsel's table. The judge will introduce himself or herself to the defendant, who is seated at counsel's s table next to his or her attorney. The Judge will go over the discussions held in chambers and then a hearing will be held on the motions filed by each side. Once that is done, a time to start jury selection will be set, usually within a day, unless the parties have reached a different agreement. Many times if a trial is sent out on a Thursday, the jury selection will begin the next week. No two jurisdictions are the alike, so your attorney will explain the proceedings to you. Some court are not in session on certain days of the week, such as Friday or hold court only two or three days a week.
What is jury selection or voir dire?This part of the trial is where both sides get to choose the jurors who will ultimately hear the case. The process is also known as "voir dire". A certain number of jurors or a "panel of jurors" are summoned to the court. You will be seated next to your attorney at counsel's table when the jurors are brought into the courtroom. The court clerk will call out jurors names from a list of jurors to make sure everyone assigned to the courtroom has actually shown up. Once that is done, the judge will take the bench, introduce himself or herself and may tell the jurors that they have been assigned to the court to hear a criminal matter. The judge will then discuss the jury selection process to the jurors by asking if anyone has a "hardship" which would prevent them from sitting on a jury, such as financial hardship, not getting paid for jury duty by an employer, unavailability, need to care for an elderly relative or young child or a scheduled vacation which has been paid for. The judge will explain what constitutes a legal hardship and will ask which jurors believe they have a hardship. Once jurors raise their hands, the court and counsel begin questioning these jurors about their circumstances to determine whether they have a legally recognizable hardship and whether they may be excused from the trial. Those who are left over are then questioned about their qualifications to sit as a juror in the case. Depending on the nature of the charges, jury selection may take anywhere from several hours to several days or longer, although in most cases jury selection can be completed in one to three days.
Jury selection: Who would make a good juror for my case?This question can be very difficult to answer and depends to a great deal on your attorney's prior trial experience in selecting jurors in a child molest case. In many instances, picking a fair and impartial juror is based on a combination of the juror's answers to specific questions, the juror's body language, the attorney's gut instincts and certain intangible factors. in my opinion, individuals who would NOT make good jurors in a child molestation case include correctional officers, teachers, doctors, nurses, daycare workers, child protection service workers, probation officers, psychologists and others trained professionals who are mandated reporters and who may deal with children or victims of child molestation in their line of work. A mandated reporter is someone who by law must report to law enforcement any child they SUSPECT of being emotionally, physically or sexually abused, even if the allegations are later determined NOT TO BE true. My years of training and experience in picking jurors has taught me to avoid these individuals as much as possible because their devotion to children and/or work experience with children or defendants convicted of child molestation will almost usually guarantee that they will side with the prosecution and sink your case before it begins. Jury selection is a critical part of any trial because if you have bad jurors, then your case is over before it even begins. Most judges hate the jury selection process and try to get it over as quickly as possible. But it is crucial that your attorney resist the court's temptation to speed through the process or your case will suffer. Each side plus the judge will question the jurors, both as a group and then individually, to determine whether a particular juror has a bias or some reason that does not amount to a hardship but that would disqualify them from sitting as a juror. If the juror was a victim of child molestation, knows someone who was a victim of a sex crime, such as their child, a relative or significant other or has a bias against those accused of child molestation, they may state that they cannot be fair and should be excused. These are called "for cause" challenges. The judge can excuse a juror for cause or if an attorney has demonstrated that the juror should be excused for cause, can request that the juror be excused. The judge does not have to grant a "for cause" challenge made by an attorney if he or she disagrees with the attorney's assessment of the cause. After the questioning process is completed, each side has a chance to excuse a juror by using what is called a "pre-emptory challenge". In California, each side gets ten pre-emptory challenges and except for certain impermissible reasons, may excuse a juror for any reason. In a case punishable by life in prison, each side gets twenty challenges. An attorney must exercise his or her challenges wisely, because the defense can quickly use theirs, only to discover that the DA has a large number of challenges left. Called "sandbagging", it is a DA tactic to not use their challenges but to wait until the defense has used theirs before they start using theirs to shape the jury.