The cornerstone of our judicial system lies upon the constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury, composed of twelve qualified jurors. Williams v. Barnes Hosp., 736 S.W.2d 33, 36 (Mo. Banc 1987). It is fundamental that jurors should be thoroughly impartial. Kendall v. Prudential Inc. Co., 327 S. W. 2d 174, 177 (Mo. 1959).
700 years ago the Magna Carta guaranteed a person could not be punished without “the lawful judgment of his peers.”
Voir dire literally means “to speak the truth”.
It’s when lawyers ask questions of prospective jurors to get “A fair cross section of the citizens of the county for which the jury may be impaneled.” Many think that its really to get only good jurors for a lawyer’s client – which has some truth but the process does achieve a balanced jury.
The purpose of voir dire is to ferret out any bias or prejudice of potential jurors. State v. Ball, 622 S.W.2d 285, 287 (Mo. App. 1981).
Jurors have to be:
- At least 21 years of age
- A citizen of the US and of the county issuing the jury summons
- Not been convicted of a felony, unless restored
- Able to read, speak and understand the English language, unless adequately accommodated
- On active military duty, or a judge of a court of record
- Not incapable of performing the duties of a juror due to mental or physical illness or infirmity, in the judgment of the trial court
“The right to unbiased and unprejudiced jurors is an inseparable and inalienable part of the right to a trial by jury guaranteed by the Constitution. A state of mind in a juror evincing bias to either party is a ground for challenge.” Kendall, 327 S.W.2d at 177.
To be meaningful, the constitution “contemplates twelve [fair and] impartial qualified jurors.”
People can be excused from jury service under R.S.Mo. 494.430 because they:
- Have served within the last two years;
- Are a nursing mother;
- Absence from regular place of employment would adversely affect the public safety, health , welfare or interest;
- Impose an undue or extreme physical or financial hardship (not sufficient that the juror will be absent from place of employment or will suffer some financial hardship);
- Licensed health care provider;
- Employee of a religious institution whose constraints prohibit jury service.