In Pennsylvania, if you are charged with a misdemeanor that is punishable by at least 1 year or more in prison, or a felony offense, you have the absolute right to have trial by jury. You and your attorney have the opportunity to select a jury. While I say select a jury, it’s more like eliminating jurors that you do not want. The Commonwealth also gets to strike jurors that they do not want.
The attorney for the Commonwealth and the defendant’s attorney are able to have jurors struck for cause. What that means is that the Judge determines, with input from the attorneys, that a juror is not fit to serve on a jury. The reasons for striking a juror for cause can range from physical or mental impairments that prevent a juror from serving, to a juror being unable to follow the judges rules and/or an inability to be fair or impartial.
After some jurors are removed for cause, the attorneys for both sides then get to eliminate jurors with what are called peremptory challenges. Their are a set number of these challenges which vary depending on whether the trial is for a felony or a misdemeanor. The two sides alternate strikes, with the Commonwealth attorney taking the first strike and then the defense attorney taking the second strike and this continues back and forth until all strikes are used. At the conclusion of the strikes the first 12 people remaining are your jury. 2 additional people are selected as alternate jurors. The two alternate jurors sit through the trial and are only used if a juror is unable serve due to illness or some other reason.
At the conclusion of the trial the 12 jurors deliberate on the case. The jury is the finder of fact. That is to say they decide what did or did not happen. ALL 12 JURORS MUST AGREE THAT YOU ARE GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT IN ORDER FOR YOU TO BE CONVICTED. The alternative to that is that all 12 jurors must agree that you are not guilty in order for you to be acquitted. The jury’s decision in the matter is called a verdict. If the jury is unable to agree unanimously on innocence or guilt, the defense attorney can make a motion (ask) for a mistrial. If granted, the Commonwealth has the option to retry the case within 90 days of the mistrial.
A jury trial can be very complex. It is important that if you choose to proceed with a jury, trial that you choose an attorney who is very familiar with the trial process. Both attorneys at Dougherty & Wellener LLC have had numerous jury trials. Their is no substitute for experience, choose your attorney wisely.
Well said Counselor!