Oregon Civil Litigation: The First Day of Trial, Jury Selection

The first thing the happens in any trial, criminal or civil, is jury selection. Every county has its own procedures for selecting jurors, and even within one county, one judge may handle jury selection a bit differently than another. This article gives a general overview of the jury selection process.

It all begins with the summons for jury duty. Citizens are randomly selected to appear for jury duty, and after the initial orientation, are assigned to a panel. Depending upon the size of the county, and the trial docket, there may be several panels serving at one particular time. Potential jurors are asked to call in on a periodic basis to see if they have been selected to report for a jury trial.

On the morning of the first day of trial, the jurors are all assembled in the courtroom. There may be two or three different panels that have been called into jury duty. After each attorney reports that there ready to proceed, the clerk of the court will randomly select jurors, and seek them in the order selected. In many courtrooms, the first eighteen jurors are seated in or near the jury box. The remaining jurors are called in order, and are usually seated in the gallery.

Some judges will question each juror briefly, to make sure there is no obvious reason the juror is not qualified to serve on the case. Other judges will have the jurors briefly introduce themselves. After the initial questions from the judge, the plaintiff's attorney is allowed to ask questions of the jurors.

When I first started trying cases, each attorney would talk to one juror at a time, which could be time consuming. More recently, the attorney is permitted to speak to all the jurors at once. This is more efficient, and allows each attorney to gather information more quickly.  Attorneys are interested in a juror's background, and general views.  They want to know what prejudices a juror brings with them.  By "prejudice," I do not mean racial or ethnic prejudice, but general impressions based on life experience.  One example, used jokingly, is the prejudice of being a Duck fan or Beaver fan.

During the questioning of potential jurors, an attorney may be concerned about whether a particular juror is qualified to serve. The civil rules of procedure provide certain reasons that a juror may not be qualified. For example, if a juror has a ongoing economic relationship with an attorney or one of the parties, then as a matter of rule, that person is not qualified to serve.  When an attorney challenges a juror's qualification, it is a challenge "for cause."

After the plaintiff's attorney has finished asking questions, the defense attorney takes over the questioning. There is no strict time limit on the amount of time allowed for questions.  This is within the judge's discretion.

Once each party has had an opportunity to ask questions of the jurors, the attorneys will exercise "preemptory challenges," which are different than challenges for cause. With very few exceptions, the attorneys are allowed to eliminate a set number of jurors for any reason, depending upon the number of parties involved in the case. Those jurors are dismissed, and the next jurors in line replace the dismissed jurors.

Once the jury is seated, the jurors are placed under oath, and impaneled. The next step in the trial is to put on evidence.