As a lawyer who is licensed to practice in several states, one question that I initially asked is: “why does the jury selection process in the North Carolina state courts take so long?” The answer lies in the jury questioning and selecting methods used in North Carolina.
THERE ARE 3 MAIN METHODS USED TODAY TO QUESTION POTENTIAL JURORS. (The questioning process is called voir dire).
Traditionally the lawyers ask most of the questions to the potential jurors. The judge, following his or her initial remarks and instructions to the jury, simply turns the questioning over to the lawyers and merely rules on objections made during the questioning.
The trend in recent years (and the process most commonly used in the federal courts) has been for the judge to ask most of the questions to the potential jurors. The lawyers can merely request in advance that the judge ask certain questions.
The third method is a hybrid of the first two. The judge asks preliminary questions of law and determines whether any potential jurors have and biases, etc. that should prevent them from serving. The lawyers then ask additional questions to the potential jurors.
IN ADDITION TO THE QUESTIONING METHODS ABOVE, THERE ARE 2 MAIN JURY SELECTION SYSTEMS USED TODAY.
Under this system every juror in the entire pool of potential jurors (called the venire) are questioned by the lawyers, the judge, or a hybrid of the two, as described above. When all of the questioning is completed, the lawyers for the parties simply designate the jurors that they would like to remove from the pool (called a peremptory challenge). The lawyer for each party marks on a list the jurors he or she wants excused, usually by drawing a line through the juror’s name and initialing it, and then the clerk calls the first names on the list, usually 12, that neither side has excused.
The most traditional jury selection system used today, simply fills the jury box with the necessary number of jurors, again usually 12. Instead of questioning the entire pool of potential jurors, the lawyers, the judge, or a hybrid of the two, as described above, question only the potential jurors in the box. When jurors in the box are removed, new jurors from the venire replace them. The questioning process then starts anew with new jurors. This process goes back and forth until both sides accept the same panel of jurors; however, only the new jurors can be questioned at each stage in the process.
In South Carolina, most state courts use the judge examination process with the panel system, and thus, its jury selection process is very fast and is very similar to the process used in most federal courts. In beginning, there are usually 50 to 60 potential jurors present in the courtroom. The judge begins with a brief explanation of the general nature of the case and the names of the parties and their attorneys. The judge then questions the jurors in order to determine their ability to serve as a juror. Some questions may be directed to all the jurors at once, while others may be directed to individual jurors. After the judge completes voir dire, the attorneys choose their jury by exercising a certain number of peremptory challenges.
In Georgia, most state courts use the lawyer examination process with the panel system, and thus, the speed of its jury selection process lies somewhere in between North and South Carolina. In civil cases, the lawyers can question the entire panel of potential jurors either individually or in groups. Selection continues by a process called striking the jury, which is so named because the parties alternately strike names from the panel. This process is continued until there is a full panel of 24 members from which the clerk of court will select 12 members who will constitute the jury that will try the case.
In North Carolina, most state courts use the lawyer examination process with the panel system. The lawyers only question the first 12 jurors seated. Upon the calling of replacement jurors, the lawyers must examine the replacement jurors anew. Only the replacement jurors may be examined at each stage in the process. Therefore, because North Carolina uses both a slow questioning method and a slow selection system, its jury selection process is one of the slowest in the 50 states. See N. C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1214.