In the ongoing saga of the Malheur wildlife refuge occupation in Oregon, defense lawyers for Ammon Bundy and his crew are generally concerned that the jury will not be impartial. Prior to this, they have also accused federal judge Jennifer Navarro in Nevada of being biased and have tried to disqualify her from overseeing the case.
Andrew Kohlmetz, an attorney who represents defendant Jason Patrick, one of the refuge’s occupiers, had requested a change of venue for the September 2016 trial and asked a federal judge Wednesday to approve funding for an analysis of the media attention the case received and, possibly, a survey of community attitudes. The two requests would total almost $130,000. Kohlmetz states that the media attention this case has garnered may have biased potential jury members.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown in Oregon seemed inclined to request the funding request until a thorough jury selection process is done to provide more information. She does not believe that jury members from Portland will be too “liberal.” It is reported she would like a jury comprised of residents from all over Oregon to represent diverse mindsets.
California Juries and the Jury Selection Process
In our criminal justice system, being judged by a ‘jury’ of our “peers” is amongst one of the most heralded constitutional rights. Juries are mentioned in the fifth, sixth, and seventh amendments in our Constitution. The theory was that an impartial jury would lead to the most just results in every case.
Who is Eligible?
In the U.S., any citizen over the age of 18 is eligible to serve on a jury. However, they must understand and speak English. They must live in the Court’s jurisdiction with a valid government issued ID, but cannot be on active military duty. Juries are randomly selected from various lists including voter registries. An individual cannot be summoned more than once a year.
In California, trial juries are generally made up of 12 jurors. But in civil trials and in criminal cases involving a misdemeanor, there can be fewer than 12 jurors if both sides agree to it.
Rooting out Bias
An important part of jury selection involves asking the court to dismiss certain candidates. After a potential juror is asked a series of screening questions, the attorney can request to dismiss him/ or her “for cause,” meaning he or she expressed some bias. These requests are unlimited. Alternatively, an attorney can also exercises a “peremptory challenge,” to a candidate meaning he or she does not have to state a reason for striking the person. There are only 6-20 requests allowed.
Lawyers are not allowed to veto prospective jurors based on their race, religion, or ethnicity. If they are suspected of doing so, the opposing party will likely file what is known as a “Wheeler motion,” meaning the entire jury will be dismissed and a new panel will be ordered. Continue reading