Utah Criminal Jury Trials – Voir Dire

Stephen Howard — Stone River Law

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Utah Criminal Jury Trials – Voir Dire

Jury Selection and Voir Dire

Jury selection begins by calling in a panel of prospective jurors (sometimes called a “venire”).  In Utah, prospective jurors are chosen at random from a list of registered voters or driver license records.  In complex or serious cases (e.g. aggravated murder), jurors may be given a written questionnaire to complete prior to the beginning of the oral voir dire.  In most cases, the voir dire process will be conducted orally by the court.  Some Utah judges will allow prosecutors or criminal defense attorneys to ask questions directly to the jury panel.  The majority of Utah judges will have the attorneys submit questions to the judge to be asked of the jury panel.

Depending on the answers given, certain members of the jury panel may be eliminated for failing to meet the legal qualifications to sit on a jury (e.g., not being a U.S. citizen, not being a resident of the county in which the crime allegedly occurred, or having been convicted previously of a felony).  Other answers may reveal a bias or prejudice that allows the prospective juror to be stricken “for cause” (e.g., having been a victim of a similar crime and having such negative feelings that the prospective juror does not believe that he/she could be fair and impartial, knowing one of the witnesses or attorneys personally where that relationship would make it difficult for the prospective juror to be fair and impartial, or having a physical or medical condition that would make it impossible for the prospective juror to listen and pay attention during the trial). 

Both the prosecution and the defense are also allowed to remove a certain number of prospective jurors from the panel using a “peremptory” challenge.  Rule 18 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure determines the number of peremptory challenges that each side may exercise.  In capital (death penalty) cases, each side is entitled to 10 peremptory challenges; in other felony cases, each side is entitled to four peremptory challenges; in misdemeanor jury trials, each side is entitled to three peremptory challenges.  (There is no limit to the number of prospective jurors who can be eliminated from the jury panel either for cause or for failing to meet the legal qualifications to sit on a jury.)

Jury selection in Utah is done by a process of elimination.  Rather than choosing the jurors that will serve on the jury, prospective jurors are eliminated either through disqualification, “for cause” challenges, or peremptory challenges.  The remaining jurors are those who will serve on the jury.  In a capital (death penalty) case, the jury is made up of 12 jurors; in felony cases, the jury consists of eight jurors; in class A misdemeanor cases there are six jurors; and in other misdemeanor cases there are four jurors.  In cases where the trial is expected to last more than one day or in cases where other unusual circumstances exist, the court may also select alternate jurors who will serve on the jury in the event that any of the originally-selected jurors are not able to serve through the entire trial.