Article III of the United States Constitution and the Sixth Amendment require that criminal cases are tried by a jury. Derek Chauvin will therefore be tried by jury. A jury is a body of people – usually 12 - who are chosen for a purpose. In legal cases, the purpose is to decide what the facts of the case are and – after being given directions about what the law is from the judge in the case – to apply the facts to the law they are given and say whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The functions of a judge and a jury in a trial are completely separate. A judge is the judge of the law and the jury are (12) judges of the facts.

The jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin has been chosen. The process for doing this, under the law in Minnesota, involved what is called a voir dire. Voir dire comes from Old French and essentially means ‘to speak the truth’. In the United States, voir dire is the process by which potential jurors are questioned by the lawyers – in the United States, lawyers are often called ‘attorneys’ – in order to check their backgrounds and, more importantly, whether they have any biases. This is particularly important when a case has received a lot of publicity – as in the case of Derek Chauvin, which has received much worldwide attention since May 2020 – and potential jurors may have heard things about the case that my prejudice them against a defendant. Defendants are, of course, entitled to have a fair trial under the law.

The jurors in the trial of the State v Derek Chauvin were chosen following a voir dire. Nine men and six women were chosen. This, of course, makes 15, and not 12. 12 of the chosen jurors will deliberate (decide on the facts and come to a decision on whether or not Derek Chauvin is guilty or not guilty on each of the charges (see Part 2, here: ) . Two of the jurors chosen will serve as ‘alternates’ (in other words, they will hear the evidence in the case and if any of the 12 jurors cannot continue to hear the case for some reason – for example, illness – will join the jury and deliberate). The 15th jury will be dismissed on the morning the trial begins (29th March 2021), if all the other jurors attend.

By way of contrast, juries in English criminal trials are not chosen by a voir dire process. They are chosen at random, from a jury panel [1] with only a limited right to challenge the inclusion of a juror onto the jury.

During the jury selection process, which lasted 11 days, some of the potential jurors told the trial judge, Judge Peter Cahill, that they were worried about their safety if chosen. Other potential jurors said that serving on the jury would cause them too much stress and trauma. The concern about such potential jurors serving on a jury is obvious – they may not focus on the evidence and return an impartial verdict, as they must do.

We will talk more about the jury and its function as the case progresses and, in particular, as it reaches the point where they are sent out to deliberate.

Text Notes:

[1] Jury panel - This is the list of jurors from which a jury may be chosen. In the United States, it is called a 'jury pool'.


Complete the following sentences by using an appropriate particle (preposition/adverb).

1. In a criminal trial in the United States, a defendant has a constitutional right to a trial …… jury.

2. In a case which generates a lot of public interest, potential jurors may have heard things which may prejudice them …………………….. a defendant.

3. A voir dire is held in criminal trials in the United States in order to ensure that if a potential jury has a bias which may affect their ability to be impartial, they should not serve …….. the jury.

4. In a criminal trial, juries are judges …… the facts.

5. Defendants are entitled to have a fair trial ……………… the law.

Answer Key

1. by

2. against

3. on

4. of

5. under

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021

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