A jury of his peers: A look at how jury selection will work in Donald Trump’s first criminal trial

Apr 13, 2024, 8:58 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s history-making criminal trial is set to start Monday with a simple but extraordinary procedural step that is vital to American democracy. A group of regular citizens — Trump’s peers, in the eyes of the law — will be chosen to decide whether the former president of the United States is guilty of a crime.

The process of picking a jury could take days. Lawyers on both sides of the case will have limited opportunities to try and shape the panel in their favor, but the court’s goal won’t be to ensure that it has a partisan balance between Democrats and Republicans, or is made up of people oblivious to previous news coverage about the trial.

The idea is to get people who are willing to put their personal opinions aside and make a decision based on the evidence and the law.

Here are some of the factors that will go into jury selection:

Who can sit on the jury?

This jury will be made up only of people who live in Manhattan, one of New York City’s five boroughs. All English-speaking, U.S. citizens over age 18 who have not been convicted of a felony are eligible for jury duty in New York. Court officials identify potential jurors from lists of registered voters, taxpayers, driver’s license holders, public benefit recipients and other sources.

The pool of potential jurors for Trump’s trial will have been chosen at random. People can volunteer for jury duty, but they can’t pick what trial they serve on.

What if a juror doesn’t want to serve?

Jury duty is compulsory, but you can get excused for a variety of reasons, including a financial or medical hardship.

How will the jury get picked?

Judge Juan M. Merchan will begin by bringing a large group of potential jurors into his courtroom. He will then give a brief outline of the case and introduce the defendant, Trump, to the jury. The judge will then ask the potential jurors a critical question: Can they serve and be fair and impartial? Those who cannot will be asked to raise their hand. For this trial, jurors who indicate they cannot serve or be fair will be dismissed.

Those who remain will be called in groups into the jury box, where they will be asked 42 questions, some with multiple parts.

The lawyers on each side will have a limited number of strikes they can use to exclude potential jurors who they don’t like, without giving a reason. They can also argue that a particular juror should be excluded, but have to get the judge to agree to dismiss that person.

The process continues until 12 jurors and six alternates have been picked. More large groups of potential jurors can be brought into the courtroom, if needed.

What questions will jurors be asked?

The judge won’t allow the lawyers to ask whether potential jurors are Democrats or Republicans, whom they voted for or whether they have given money to any political causes. But there are multiple questions aimed at rooting out whether people are likely to be biased against, or in favor of, Trump.

Among them:

“Do you have any political, moral, intellectual, or religious beliefs or opinions which might prevent you from following the court’s instructions on the law or which might slant your approach to this case?”

“Have you, a relative, or a close friend ever worked or volunteered for a Trump presidential campaign, the Trump presidential administration, or any other political entity affiliated with Mr. Trump?”

“Have you ever attended a rally or campaign event for Donald Trump?”

“Do you currently follow Donald Trump on any social media site or have you done so in the past?”

“Have you, a relative, or a close friend ever worked or volunteered for any anti-Trump group or organization?”

“Have you ever attended a rally or campaign event for any anti-Trump group or organization?”

“Do you currently follow any anti-Trump group or organization on any social media site, or have you done so in the past?”

“Have you ever considered yourself a supporter of or belonged to any of the following: The QAnon movement, Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, Three Percenters, Boogaloo Boys, Antifa.”

Jurors will be asked what podcasts and talk radio programs they listen to and where they get their news.

Will the public learn the identities of the jurors?

The judge has ordered that the jurors’ names be kept secret, an unusual but not unprecedented step in trials where there is a potential that jurors might wind up being harassed or threatened during or after the trial. There is nothing to stop jurors from voluntarily talking about their experiences after the trial is over. While it is pending, they aren’t supposed to talk about it to anyone.

What will this jury decide?

Jurors in this trial will listen to testimony and decide whether Trump is guilty of any of 34 counts of falsifying business records. Their decision to convict or acquit must be unanimous. If they cannot agree on a verdict, the judge can declare a mistrial. If jurors have a reasonable doubt that Trump is guilty, they must acquit him. If they convict him, the judge will be the one who decides the sentence, not the jurors.

United States News

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A jury of his peers: A look at how jury selection will work in Donald Trump’s first criminal trial