Jury Trials in DC Theft Cases

Jury trials are common in felony theft cases.  The law states that a jury is made up of an individual’s peers, but that is a stretch of the definition. A jury is made up of registered voters who live in the District of Columbia, which includes all types of people based on the demographics of the different sections of the city. Since juries in theft cases can be so unpredictable, it is of the utmost important to hire an experienced theft attorney to defend such a charge.

Jury Selection Process

There is a process called voir dire where potential theft case jury members, called the panel, answer specific questions from the judge on note cards. The prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and the juror approach the bench to discuss the answers to those questions to determine whether or not a prospective juror can be fair and impartial. These questions determine whether the individual is qualified to sit as a juror in said theft case. This also presents an opportunity for the juror to talk about whether or not they have medical problems or other serious issues that prohibit them from serving as a juror in that particular case.

The process goes on for several hours until all of the prospective theft case jurors have given their answers. At this point, both the prosecution and defense in a felony case each have ten peremptory strikes of jurors. They are allowed to dismiss prospective jurors from the panel based on reasons that are not improper. In other words, they cannot be based on gender or race. At the end of that process, there are 12 jurors and almost always two alternates. The alternates are not informed ahead of time but they do, in fact, sit through the whole trial.

Diversity of a Jury

Because the jury in theft cases are made up of people from all walks of life, the results of a theft trial can always be varied. Sometimes it seems like the attorney can make an informed decision on which jurors are going to best support the accused individual’s position, their version of events, and their defense. There is a cross-section of people on all juries, and particularly here in the District of Columbia.

Thankfully, the District of Columbia has a significant minority population such that individuals are able to get a fair share of jurors like them. However, sometimes, there is a jury that seems to be more of one demographic than another, more Republican than Democrat, or more White than Asian. Those differences can be important in how a jury views a case, due to the fact that people come with their biases already formed in life. Sometimes, they are not honest during the jury questioning session. They take those biases into the jury with them. The makeup of a jury is incredibly important and is something that attorneys study and take seriously.

Other Types of Trials

In an extremely limited number of cases, an attorney may advise his or her client to waive the right to a trial by jury and have the judge decide, but that is rare and is based on particular circumstances. That occurs mostly when there may be evidence or witnesses who are particularly sympathetic to a jury and could arouse improper feelings of hostility toward the defendant. The jury could also be sympathetic toward a witness, and an attorney could then risk the wrong legal result because of those feelings. It is hard to place complete trust in the jury of a theft case, which is why some attorneys advise against going down that road.  It is the opinion of the defense attorney, based on experience and analysis, that the judge who was properly trained on what to consider and what not to consider is in a better position to cut through those improper feelings of sympathy or animosity. That is the only scenario where an attorney will advise the client to waive there right to a trial by jury.

Defining ‘Beyond A Reasonable Doubt’

In jury trials, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is defined as being firmly convinced. A judge instructs a jury that reasonable doubt is the type of doubt that would cause somebody to pause before making a decision on an important issue in their life. Firmly convinced means that a person does not know to a scientific certainty, but is confident enough that they are making the right decision. In order to convict, the jury must be convinced that this person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

On the other hand, unreasonable doubt is somewhat confusing. As an example, unreasonable doubt is when it is hypothetically possible that the accused person has an identical twin that was never identified, and it was that identical twin who committed the offense. Hypothetically, this may have occurred, but there is no evidence presented that this is the case. That is an unreasonable doubt.