At some point in time during pre-trial proceedings, all discovery will be completed and pre-trial legal matters will be resolved. The case will be certified ready for trial by the Magistrate handling such pre-trial matters. Shortly thereafter, and under the provisions of The Speedy Trial Act, the case will be scheduled for trial. If no plea bargain agreement is reached by the day of trial, the trial will begin. The first step in this process will be to select a jury to hear the case unless the defendant specifically waives his right to trial by jury. (Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 23(a)).
Prospective Jurors – Voter Registration Lists
Prospective jurors are selected from voter registration lists within the federal district where a given case is to be tried. As specified in Title 28 United States Code §1861-1871 (The Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968), to qualify for jury service in federal court, a person must be an adult citizen of the United States who is mentally, physically and legally capable of rendering satisfactory service. The Act provides that no citizen shall be excluded from jury service on the basis of race, creed, sex, national origin or economic status. Indeed, The Jury Selection Act specifically requires that federal juries be chosen from “a fair cross section of the persons residing in the community”.
Theoretically, at least, by selecting jurors from actual voter registration lists, a criminal defendant is ensured of being tried by “a fair cross section of the persons residing in the community”. It may be that a voting registration list does not exactly mirror the demographic percentages of a given district by race, age, sex or religious preference. However, in all likelihood, it will at least mirror a “fair cross section”. Since no names may be systematically excluded from the lists on the basis of race, creed, sex, national origin or religious preference, the odds are that a federal jury panel will provide the defendant with a right to trial by a jury of his peers, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
Once a case is placed on the trial docket, the District Court Clerk’s office will send summons to prospective jurors randomly selected from that district’s voter registration lists. Specific regulations and procedures govern exactly how the random selection process is implemented so as to ensure that purposeful and invidious discrimination against any class or classes of persons is eliminated. Depending on the nature of the case, as few as forty and as many as several hundred prospective jurors may be summoned to appear in Court on the day scheduled for trial. Unless the prospective juror has a valid legal excuse which would prevent him from serving as a juror, the summoned juror must appear as ordered. If he does not, he is subject to arrest and/or contempt
After arrival at the courthouse, prospective jurors are usually shown an educational film by the Clerk of Court which describes for them their role in the federal trial process. Such films are carefully scrutinized by the Court to guarantee that they are both accurate and impartial in informing jurors about their legal duties and responsibilities. After this orientation, the prospective jurors are usually ushered to the particular courtroom where the trial has been scheduled and the jury selection process begins.
After arrival in the courtroom, the presiding District Court Trial Judge will usually greet the jurors and introduce the parties to the litigation, these being, the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the defendant(s). The Court may or may not read the indictment to the jury panel, but usually will at least explain to the panel the subject matter of the trial about to be commenced. Thereafter, the Court will instruct the panel on the voir dire.