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Derek Chauvin Trial: Can the Attorneys on the Case Influence the Racial Makeup of the Jury?

The selection of a jury is often one of the most contentious and prominent moments in a trial. This is because the jury’s verdict will determine whether the defendant is acquitted or convicted. Much of the public believes that the racial makeup of the jury has a significant influence on the outcome of a trial, because one’s biases about others may be shaped, in part, by their race or ethnicity.

The selection of the jury for the Derek Chauvin trial is no exception. While the jury has already been selected for this trial—with the exception of two alternate jurors who may or may not participate in the ultimate verdict—it was no small task to get there. Learn how the jury selection for the Derek Chauvin trial took place and why certain jurors may have been chosen while others were not.

Can Attorneys Influence the Racial Makeup of the Jury?

A jury is a sworn body of people selected to render a verdict based on evidence submitted to them by a court. An impartial, unbiased jury is critical to upholding every person’s right to a fair trial.

Some worry that the racial makeup of the jury may make the jury’s verdict unfair and based on biases, whether conscious or unconscious. While one’s ethnicity could play a role in the biases they may have, it is the court’s job to select jurors who do not have any preconditioned biases. To that end, the attorneys select jurors through a process known as “voir dire,” which is Latin for “to speak the truth.” In voir dire, the judge, the prosecution, and the defense ask potential jurors questions to determine if they are competent and suitable to serve in the case. Potential jurors may also answer questionnaires, then questioned to see whether their answers on the questionnaire match their answers face-to-face.

This process is meant to eliminate jurors who are incapable of rendering an impartial decision based on the evidence of the case. A juror can only be dismissed for race-neutral reasons. Therefore, neither the attorneys on either side, nor the judge, have the power to strike a juror for any reason related to their race.

What Makes the Court Dismiss a Potential Juror?

Aside from race, there are several reasons that a court may dismiss a potential juror. The two main reasons involve conscious or unconscious biases, as discussed above, or conflicts of interest.

In regard to conflicts of interest, a juror may be dismissed if they know either the plaintiff, the defendant, or anyone else involved in the case in some capacity. This could involve familial, friend, or business relationships—however distant.

Attorneys on either side can ask the judge to dismiss a juror for cause (as in, based on biases or conflicts of interest) an unlimited number of times. The judge will review the request and may approve or deny it. Additionally, attorneys on either side may dismiss a potential juror without stated cause (as in, based on the belief the juror will not serve in the best interest of their client). The number of these peremptory challenges is limited, and cannot be based on the juror’s race or sex.

Jury Selection in the Derek Chauvin Trial

The jury for the Derek Chauvin trial has, by and large, already been impaneled and finalized. The selected jurors were put through a rigorous selection process wherein they were asked to the extent they agree or disagree with certain statements specifically related to this case, such as, “Minneapolis police officers are more likely to respond with force when confronting Black suspects than with dealing with white suspects.”

In the end, the final jury that has been chosen is more diverse than the county in which Derek Chauvin is being tried and where George Floyd died. Since the prosecution, the defense, and the court at large have all agreed upon the jurors, it can be assumed that the parties involved believe the selected jury is an impartial one.

The Derek Chauvin trial may be a defining one for the state of Minnesota, a state which has only convicted one former police officer charged with killing an unarmed person. Joe Tamburino, one of our partners and a frequent legal analyst on the Derek Chauvin trial with CBSN Minnesota (WCCO), will provide more updates and analysis as the trial continues.

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