HomeTop StoriesJury selection will be crucial in Trump's hush money trial

Jury selection will be crucial in Trump’s hush money trial

Trials can be won or lost in jury selection. Donald Trump’s hush money case is no different.

It’s no surprise that so much discussion and work has gone into the questions that will be asked of prospective jurors in Manhattan. We’ve seen the list of 42 questions that Judge is Juan Merchan released, and it ranges from routine biographical questions to more specific questions about membership in extremist groups and feelings about this unique criminal defendant.

Certainly, potential jurors’ answers to these questions will be helpful. But ultimately, the task of jury selection is nearly impossible. It requires snap judgments from strangers based on limited information in a limited time frame.

It is a strategic task. Any number of jurors can be dismissed “for cause,” meaning they are not qualified or simply cannot be fair. In addition, each party will receive so-called ‘coercive’ challenges. This allows either side to eliminate potential jurors without having to provide reasons (although the other side can object to a challenge that appears to be based on race, for example, with the judge deciding whether it is).

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And while Trump’s 34 counts of falsifying corporate records are crimes, they are among the lowest category of crimes. That’s relevant to jury selection because the law in this situation only gives each side 10 strikes for the regular jurors (and two for each alternate juror who would step in if necessary). By comparison, the most serious crimes give each party twenty peremptory blows. (Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.)

The limited number of challenges means lawyers can find themselves in situations where they may not like a particular potential juror, but if they hit them, a worse one could be lurking. So it’s a tactical endeavor based at least partly on instinct. With crucial consequences.

This all raises the question of what each party is looking for. The ostensible purpose of jury selection is to choose a group that will be fair. But in this case, perhaps more than in any other, the two sides probably have very different views of what that means. In that regard, The New York Times reported this about Trump’s strategy:

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Of course, annulments occur, as do acquittals. But whatever judgement should be based on the evidence and whether the prosecution has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, this reinforces the reality that the case can be won or lost before the first witness is called to trial. Prosecutors, on the other hand, will try to avoid such tenacious jurors. But there is no foolproof way to do this.

And there is another underestimated but important feature of jury selection. While this is not technically an opportunity to argue their case, this moment allows both sides to make a first impression on the people they hope to convince in closing arguments weeks later. Just as the lawyers vet the potential jurors, those potential jurors take stock of the lawyers – and also of the defendant.

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This article was originally published on MSNBC.com

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