In The News

In The News

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Jury is Important - Just ask the Michigan Supreme Court

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Michael J. Nichols

Imagine yourself in a position in which you never thought that you would find yourself – you are trying to decide which 6 – or in the case of a felony 12 people will decide if the facts presented by the government prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Imagine yourself working with a lawyer, a person who you have gotten to know fairly well, but not as well as some of the most important people who may be in your life. This lawyer says to you “hey – so this judge: his deal is to only let us size up the jury panel and if a new prospective juror replaces someone – we can only strike him or her and not use a strike just because we do not like the make-up of the panel as a decision-making body.”

Crazy, right?

First a little legal jargon explained: a “peremptory” challenge or strike is a challenge to a prospective juror during the voir dire process for absolutely no reason so long as it is not an illegal reason, such as gender or race. “Voir dire” is the term for the process of the trial during which prospective jurors are examined for their background or beliefs including life experiences.

In “People v Yarborough” – the Michigan Supreme Court had a chance to right some wrongs. The law seemed to support that, if a trial court judge (in other words, your judge on your case who is refereeing the “game” as it were) prohibited attorneys from using all of the allotted peremptory challenges, then that is what we call an error of the highest magnitude. It is called “reversible error.”

In Yarborough, the trial court judge prohibited the attorney for Mr. Yarborough from using peremptory strikes for jurors who had already – for lack of a better way of putting it – survived a round of strikes already. The problem with this boundary is that when you try to read people as a group, whether it is 12 people for a felony in the State of Michigan … or 6 people for a misdemeanor … it is important to understand the psychology of group dynamics. Here, Mr. Yarborough’s attorney wanted to strike a juror on whom he had “passed” in a prior round of opportunities to strike that same juror.
Justice Bernstein wrote the majority opinion in the case, stating that for over 100 years, violating an accused’s right to have his fate decided by the jury of his choosing was a constitutional violation that required automatic reversal: “Michigan caselaw has recognized that the appropriate remedy for the erroneous denial of a peremptory challenge is automatic reversal even though this right is not constitutionally mandated,” (Slip Op. p 12).
The opinion succinctly nails the problem with trial judges imposing limits on the ability to strike a prospective juror based on the make-up of the jury:
“Defendant’s ability to issue peremptory challenges throughout the voir dire process was limited from the outset by the trial court’s policy forbidding such challenges to previously seated prospective jurors. This necessarily limited defendant’s ability to strategically consider the final composition of the jury,” (Slip Op. p 13).
This ruling really is a critical one, because it creates a uniform rule that allows the attorneys to “pass” on a peremptory challenge based on the dynamic of the personalities in the jury box and then use a peremptory later if that make-up changes and a prospective juror who might have been “marginal” for the theory of the case should be stricken if a different prospective juror gets in the box.

Need a Lawyer?

Get an online consultation or call 517-432-9000

Online Consultation »

Do the Medicines You Take Criminalize Your Driving?

Family Law encompasses a broad range of issues that occur between family members. Our team can help you in all of these areas...

More »

Personal Injury / Traumatic Brain Injury Experts

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is one of the most frightening and serious forms of injury...

More »

Criminal Defense

We are skilled, experienced and committed to resuts in both the serious and misdemenor criminal case

Personal Injury

We have successfully represented clients with serious and traumatic injuries

What our clients are saying

more testimonials »

Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.