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» DUI, Trial » They Were Practically Begging to Be Struck…

They Were Practically Begging to Be Struck…

A lot of people have been writing about peremptory challenges lately. You can read some interesting posts here and here. In Arizona, the parties each get six peremptory challenges in felony cases not punishable by death. It’s not always easy getting a juror struck for cause, so those six “free” strikes usually feel like far too few. The problem is that most people think they can be fair even when they really can’t be. Who’s willing to admit to a room of strangers that they can’t possibly be fair and impartial?

Recently, I learned that when drinking and driving might be involved, the answer is “almost everyone.” I had a trial a couple months ago where there was evidence my client drank alcohol prior to driving, and his young daughters were in the car with him. My client was not charged with DUI because he had no signs of impairment and blew under the legal limit when given a breath test. Before trial, I filed a motion in limine to preclude any mention of the fact he’d been drinking. I argued his drinking was not relevant to the actual charge and that, even if it was, it’s prejudicial effect substantially outweighed its probative value. The judge denied my motion but let me ask prospective jurors all kinds of questions about their views on DUI.

What I heard from the prospective jurors in voir dire suprised even me. A lot of jurors thought we should have zero tolerance for any drinking prior to driving. Many of them said they simply couldn’t be fair to someone who had something to drink prior to driving. They seemed to wear their inability to be fair and impartial as a badge of honor. I felt like the panel bonded over their hatred of even the slightest bit of pre-driving alcohol consumption, and the jurors seemed to be pushing each other in some kind of competition to see who could be the most intolerant. I’ve never gotten so many jurors struck so quickly and so easily. I don’t think the judge was able to rehabilitate a single juror.

That experience left me wondering a few things. Is it normally tougher to get jurors struck for cause because people don’t have similarly powerful prejudices in other areas, or because they just don’t feel comfortable expressing their other prejudices? Is there any other area where people are so willing to admit they can’t be fair and impartial? Did the jurors really feel so strongly about drinking and driving, or were they just giving into social pressure? I’ll probably never know the answer to some of those questions, but at least it’s something interesting to consider.

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2 Responses to "They Were Practically Begging to Be Struck…"

  1. Mark Bennett says:

    Try a case involving allegations of child molestation. The potential jurors will climb over each other to be most anti- (as though anyone’s in favor).

    It’s the jurors who keep their mouths shut during this feeding frenzy that you have to watch out for, because they may be trying to get on the jury.

  2. Andrew Becke says:

    Also, it should be kept in mind that most people still see jury duty as a nuisance and are willing to “fudge” a little bit to get themselves excused. The quickest way to avoid jury duty is to have a lot of strong opinions about everything, and most people know that. I’d be willing to bet that at least some of the people you struck were exaggerating.

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