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What is a Jury of Peers?

In the criminal justice system, when someone is charged with a crime, he or she is entitled to be tried by a “jury of their peers.” A lot of people ask, “What does a jury of peers mean? Does it mean I’ll be tried by people of the same age, gender, and race as me?” For example, will a Hispanic man be tried by Hispanic men? Will a Christian be tried by Christians only?

Contrary to popular belief, defendants are not tried by a tailor-made jury that’s made up of jurors of the same race, age group, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. A long time ago in England, when a member of nobility was tried by a jury, he was tried by his fellow nobles instead of by the king. The concept has evolved and now a jury of peers is more accurately defined as a jury consisting of one’s fellow citizens.

Jury Selection Process

The state commences the jury selection process by randomly selecting a group of locals for what’s called the jury pool. Not all candidates are chosen. Before they’re selected, they have to answer questions from the defense, prosecution and judge to ensure they don’t have something in their background that could cloud their judgement or make them biased in the case.

For example, if a woman’s young daughter was killed by a drunk driver, she probably wouldn’t be selected as a juror in an intoxicated manslaughter case. Or, if a man was a victim of a home invasion, he probably wouldn’t be selected to serve on a jury trying a man for murder that occurred during a residential burglary. As you can imagine, certain experiences in a person’s past could impact their attitude about the defendant. The idea is to avoid potential jurors who may be prejudice.

Race and gender are off-limits, meaning defense attorneys and prosecutors can’t exclude a juror based on their race or gender alone; however, lawyers may have an issue with a potential juror because they are very young or very old. An attorney might argue that a very young or very old juror might have a hard time keeping track of important events in a complicated case.