What does it mean to “strike” a juror?

To “strike” a prospective juror is to remove him or her from the jury before a case begins.  Some courts use “remove” or another term instead of the word “strike.”

Prospective jurors are usually struck during voir dire, the process in which the parties to a case may question jurors in order to reveal any biases those potential jurors have that might make them unable to weigh all the evidence fairly.  During voir dire, a small group of prospective jurors is seated, usually in the jury box, and each party or that party’s attorney asks the prospective jurors various questions.  The prospective jurors may be referred to by number rather than name in order to preserve their anonymity, especially if journalists are expected to be present in the courtroom.

Once all the parties or their attorneys have had an opportunity to ask their questions, the judge gives each party in turn the chance to strike one or more jurors “for cause.”  These strikes may only be used if legal cause exists to remove one or more of the jurors.  For instance, a juror who reveals during voir dire that she is the sister of the plaintiff in a personal injury case may be struck “for cause” if the law or court rules prohibit blood relatives of the parties from sitting on juries that hear their cases.  Jurors who have had previous cases with or against the parties or their attorneys, or who have had a case of their own heard before that particular judge, may be stricken for cause in some courts.

Once the judge has asked each party or attorney if he wants to strike any prospective juror “for cause,” and any jurors who are stricken for cause leave the jury box, the judge will ask each party in turn if he or she wants to use a “peremptory strike” or “peremptory challenge” to remove any juror.

A peremptory strike has the same effect as a strike for cause: that is, it removes a prospective juror from the jury.  However, parties or their attorneys generally do not have to explain why they are using a peremptory strike.  Peremptory strikes are most often used, therefore, to dismiss prospective jurors whom one party believes will be biased and therefore unable to evaluate the case fairly.  For instance, a plaintiff in a personal injury car accident case may wish to use a peremptory challenge to remove a juror who has revealed that she believes most people who are injured in car accidents exaggerate their injuries to get sympathy.

The purpose of peremptory strikes is to allow each side to try to construct a jury that is likely to listen to the entire case fairly, instead of coming in with preconceived notions that might prejudice one side or the other.  However, some legal theorists have argued that peremptory challenges “unbalance” a jury that would be more representative of the community as a whole if it were chosen by random selection.

Certain rules govern the use of peremptory strikes.  Many courts limit the number of peremptory strikes each party can use in a case.  Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that in criminal cases, prosecutors cannot use peremptory strikes to eliminate potential jurors based on the juror’s race, ethnicity, or gender.  If the defendant in a criminal case can prove the prosecutor has used peremptory strikes to eliminate potential jurors based on race, ethnicity, or gender, he may be entitled to a new trial.

Once an entire jury is seated and no party has tried to strike any of the potential jurors for cause or by using a peremptory strike, the jury is generally sworn in and the trial moves on to the next step, often preliminary instructions or opening statements.

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