The jury trial has been described as one of the hallmarks of a free and democratic society. This is because it allows a person to be tried before his or her peers rather than appointed officials.
Although members of the public, defendants, and even some lawyers are often reluctant to participate in jury trials they present an important opportunity to educate the public about the important function of our courts. Here, you will find a general description of the trial process; and, a summary of the two-step process of jury selection.
General information about trials
A criminal trial is between the state, who is accusing a person of committing a crime; and, the defendant, who is accused of breaking the law. The prosecutor is called “the crown” or “crown counsel”. The person is referred to as “the accused” or “the defendant”.
Evidence is called by the lawyers during the course of the trial. Generally, evidence is presented by the party calling the witness, then, it is challenged by the opposing party. Ultimately, the trial ends with a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
Our law allows for three types trials in criminal cases: trial before a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice; trial before a judge of the Superior Court of Justice; and, trial before a judge and jury in the Superior Court of Justice. In Ontario, juries are selected in accordance with the Juries Act.
Assembling a group of prospective jurors
There are two stages to selecting a jury. The first stage involves assembling a group of prospective jurors. This group is called a panel or an array of prospective jurors. Trial juries for every trial are selected from these panels of prospective jurors.
In order to qualify for jury duty, section 2 of the Juries Act sets out the criteria for eligibility. According to that section, a potential juror must reside in Ontario; be at least 18 years of age; and, must be able to read, speak and understand English or French.
In order to determine eligibility for jury service a jury questionnaire is sent to residents. The answers to the jury questionnaire are used to put together a jury roll from those who are eligible to serve as a juror. The jury roll is divided based on language competency. Then, the panels are assembled from the community by way of a letter sent to people summoning them for jury duty for a particular time.
The in-court procedure for jury selection begins once the jury panel arrives in court. Each member of the panel will be assigned a number. Cards with the number are then put inside a box and drawn randomly by the registrar of the court. This process is repeated until there are sufficient prospective jurors to supply a full jury for the trial.
At a time prior to the start of the trial, the presiding judge will vet the panel members to determine whether any of them should be excused from jury duty. Generally, the presiding judge will advise the members of the jury panel of some of the requirements for jury service.
In addition, the judge will outline some of the reasons why a member of the panel can be disqualified from jury duty. For example, a jury member should not have a personal interest in the case. Nor should they have a relationship with the judge, the crown, defence counsel, the defendant, or any prospective witnesses.
The procedure for jury trials is outlined in the Criminal Code under Part XX titled “Jury Trials”. There are many aspects to a jury trial including challenge for cause; alternate jurors; additional jurors; and, what to do when a juror cannot continue.
Not all lawyers are comfortable arguing a case, calling evidence, and cross-examining a witness in front of a jury. Are you facing a jury trial? If that is the case, it is important to have a criminal defence lawyer who knows the rules of jury selection and can make the best decisions on your behalf. Deniz Sarikaya is an experienced jury trial lawyer. Call 647-282-5777 to set up your free consultation.