Skip to content

Georgia Jury Trial Basics

by merlin on December 19th, 2013
  • Sumo

Not one but TWO felony drug possession cases to prepare for (by design, my practice is primarily civil these days, but I have over a decade of experience on both sides of the fence in criminal matters, as well as an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice, and there are some situations where I am required to engage in that practice).  In both, a jury trial has been requested.  However, because it has been over a decade since I last engaged in criminal jury practice, a refresher was in order.  The bare bones of Georgia jury trials are below:

As with all legal matters, the inquiry begins with statutory authority.  There are some very basic qualifications for jury service, and a person may be stricken from the jury either peremptorily or “for cause”.  Peremptory strikes are discretionary, as long as they are used legally (i.e. – no irrational prejudice, etc.), but strikes that are “for cause” are automatic strikes, and do not require the discretion of a party (except the party seeking to show that someone should be stricken from the jury “for cause”, or the person seeking to rehabilitate that juror and keep them on the jury panel).

Section 15-12-125 of the Official Code of Georgia establishes the bare bones of jury trials in misdemeanor cases; for obvious reasons, my research has focused elsewhere, but the Code section is below:

“For the trial of misdemeanors in all courts, each party may demand a full panel of 12 competent and impartial jurors from which to select a jury. When one or more of the regular panel of trial jurors is absent or for any reason disqualified, the judge, at the request of counsel for either party, shall cause the panel to be filled by additional competent and impartial jurors to the number of 12 before requiring the parties or their counsel to strike a jury. From this panel, the accused and the state shall each have the right to challenge three jurors peremptorily. The accused and the state shall exercise their challenges as provided in Code Section 15-12-166. The remaining six jurors shall constitute the jury.”

Before beginning voir dire, the judge must give an oath to the prospective jurors, set forth in Section 15-12-132:

“Each panel, prior to commencing voir dire, shall take the following oath:

  •       “You shall give true answers to all questions as may be asked by the court or its authority, including all questions asked by the parties or their attorneys, concerning your qualifications as jurors in the case of       (herein state the case). So help you God.”

This oath shall be administered by the trial judge or the clerk.”

Section 15-12-164 sets out certain statutory questions which all jurors in a felony trial must respond honestly to, that determine essentially whether they have prejudged a case before hearing the evidence:

“(a)  On voir dire examination in a felony trial, the jurors shall be asked the following questions:

(1)  “Have you, for any reason, formed and expressed any opinion in regard to the guilt or innocence of the accused?” If the juror answers in the negative, the question in paragraph (2) of this subsection shall be propounded to him;

(2)  “Have you any prejudice or bias resting on your mind either for or against the accused?” If the juror answers in the negative, the question in paragraph (3) of this subsection shall be propounded to him;

(3)  “Is your mind perfectly impartial between the state and the accused?” If the juror answers this question in the affirmative, he shall be adjudged and held to be a competent juror in all cases where the authorized penalty for the offense does not involve the life of the accused; but when it does involve the life of the accused, the question in paragraph (4) of this subsection shall also be put to him;

(4)  “Are you conscientiously opposed to capital punishment?” If the juror answers this question in the negative, he shall be held to be a competent juror.

(b)  Either the state or the accused shall have the right to introduce evidence before the judge to show that a juror’s answers, or any of them, are untrue. It shall be the duty of the judge to determine the truth of such answers as may be thus questioned before the court.

(c)  If a juror answers any of the questions set out in subsection (a) of this Code section so as to render him incompetent or if he is found to be so by the judge, he shall be set aside for cause.

(d)  The court shall also excuse for cause any juror who from the totality of the juror’s answers on voir dire is determined by the court to be substantially impaired in the juror’s ability to be fair and impartial. The juror’s own representation that the juror would be fair and impartial is to be considered by the court but is not determinative.”

 Section 15-12-133 gives the right of individual examination of each juror by the parties.  This is important, since this lets the people who will be deciding the facts of the case or controversy be examined closer by the parties and their counsel:

“In all civil cases, the parties thereto shall have the right to an individual examination of the panel of prospective jurors from which the jury is to be selected, without interposing any challenge. In all criminal cases, both the state and the accused shall have the right to an individual examination of each prospective juror from which the jury is to be selected prior to interposing a challenge. The examination shall be conducted after the administration of a preliminary oath to the panel or in criminal cases after the usual voir dire questions have been put by the court. In the examination, the counsel for either party shall have the right to inquire of the individual prospective jurors examined touching any matter or thing which would illustrate any interest of the prospective juror in the case, including any opinion as to which party ought to prevail, the relationship or acquaintance of the prospective juror with the parties or counsel therefor, any fact or circumstance indicating any inclination, leaning, or bias which the prospective juror might have respecting the subject matter of the action or the counsel or parties thereto, and the religious, social, and fraternal connections of the prospective juror.”

After this individual examination is done, the parties decide on who to challenge, until a jury of the appropriate size, plus alternates, is selected.

Section 15-12-165 of the Official Code of Georgia sets out the number of “peremptory challenges” permitted (these may be distinguished from strikes “for cause”, which are challenges to a juror for violating one of the statutory preconditions for jury service, as opposed to ones exercised because of a strategy or other system for strikes – challenges “for cause” 

“Every person accused of a felony may peremptorily challenge nine of the jurors impaneled to try him or her. The state shall be allowed the same number of peremptory challenges allowed to the accused; provided, however, that in any case in which the state announces its intention to seek the death penalty, the accused may peremptorily challenge 15 jurors and the state shall be allowed the same number of peremptory challenges.”

As stated above, this has been a very basic listing of Georgia rules on jury trials.  It is a topic that will be re-visited in greater depth.  A couple of very good resources for the basic information are the treatises Davis and Shulman’s Georgia Practice and Procedure and Daniel’s Criminal Trial Practice by Jack Goger.

Comments are closed.