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How is the jury selected for the criminal trial against Trump in New York? Experts explain the ‘challenges’

On April 15, dozens of New Yorkers are summoned to a Manhattan courtroom. There they will have the opportunity to serve as jurors in the hush money trial of the former president Donald Trumpthe first criminal trial of an ex-president in American history.

However, only 12 will be deemed worthy to sit in the jury box opposite the former president.

The jury selection process will be lengthy and fraught with unique challenges posed by the fact that the defendant is one of the most famous men in the world, someone about whom almost everyone has an opinion, according to legal experts.


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How jury selection works

The first part of the jury selection process involves assembling a pool of potential jurors.

This panel, known as the venire, is randomly selected from public records, usually from lists of driver’s license holders or registered voters, Sharon Fairley, a professor of practice at the University of Chicago Law School, told McClatchy News.

Members of this venire, all Manhattan residents, will then receive a written questionnaire to help them get started.

Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the case, released the contents of the questionnaire in a letter dated April 8. The questions focus on potential jurors’ professions, their family lives and even their media consumption habits.

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“Once they narrow the group down to the people who come to the courtroom for jury selection, then you have the process that takes place in court, known as voir dire,” Fairley said.

During this process, potential jurors will be peppered with questions to shed light on their backgrounds and biases.

“What is important to understand regarding New York State as compared to federal jury selection… is that the voir dire is conducted by an attorney,” Phillip Hamilton, a criminal defense attorney in New York, told McClatchy News. This means it will be Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors who will scrutinize the panel, not Judge Merchan.

“The attorneys will be given wide latitude to examine the mindset of the jurors and determine whether or not they will be an impartial juror,” Hamilton said.

All kinds of questions — ranging from basic to hyper-specific questions — will be asked, Hamilton said.

“There will be questions about that person’s experience with the criminal justice system,” Fairley said. “Do they have friends or family who have been sent to prison? Or do they have friends or family in the police?”

Case-specific questions are also likely to arise, including about possible juror opinions on pornography — as the trial centers on payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, Hamilton said.

However, “the most important questions are about the prospective jurors’ ability to put aside any political views they may have, to consider only the evidence presented and to follow the law.” Edward Kone, a criminal defense attorney in Florida, told McClatchy News. “Anything less would be a total miscarriage of justice in any criminal case, let alone one involving the opposition leader in our country.”

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After potential jurors are interviewed, attorneys for both sides will have the option to dismiss members “for cause,” meaning “there is a specific reason why they cannot be on the jury,” Fairley said.

These reasons may include hardship. For example, if a prospective juror is a single mother who says she can’t miss work for several weeks, she could be fired, Fairley said.

Potential jurors can also be dismissed for valid reasons if they have “very strong views,” such as a strong hatred of Trump, she said.

In addition, attorneys for both sides are assigned a specific number of peremptory strikes, allowing them to dismiss potential jurors for any reason, such as “they don’t like their body language,” Fairley said.

When considering which potential jurors to retain, prosecutors look for individuals “who care about holding people accountable,” Fairley said. Trump’s lawyers, however, will likely focus on people less concerned about infidelity.

Since Manhattan is a very liberal jurisdiction, Trump’s lawyers may also pay special attention to potential jurors from neighborhoods that are historically more conservative, such as the Upper East Side, Hamilton said.

After all objections are raised — either for cause or through a peremptory strike — those who remain are chosen to serve, Hamilton said.

“It’s not so much an affirmative choice as neither side objects,” he said, “so the juror survives and they become part of the jury.”

‘Unique challenges’

“There are very unique challenges in the Trump case,” Kone said.

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Chief among them is that everyone has at least some opinions about Trump, even if they don’t know the details of the case, Hamilton said.

“TIt will be difficult,” he added. “People love him; people hate him, and (they’ll) just have to try to find people who, regardless of their predisposition to Trump, can actually hear the case and follow the law and criminal procedure as required.

However, given the high-profile nature of the case, it is possible that some potential jurors will conceal their true feelings in an effort to be placed on the jury – to acquit or convict Trump, Hamilton said.

“The challenge is that jurors have to be honest and direct in their answers, but sometimes you don’t know if they’re being as candid as they should be,” Fairley said.

Therefore, it is incumbent on both sides to delve deeper into the lives of potential jurors to help confirm their answers.

“You need to investigate those jurors. You have to look them up on Facebook and do some Google searches,” Hamilton said.

On the other hand, there will likely be members of the pool who have little to no interest in politics, Fairley said.

“You’d be surprised,” Fairley said. “There are a lot of people who are just not that politically involved, but they are smart and capable and can do the job.”

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