The Arizona Supreme Court recently announced a major rules change which will have a huge impact on criminal defense lawyers and individuals who are charged with crimes and participating in a jury trial. Specifically, and effective January 1, 2022, peremptory challenges of individuals during jury selection will be eliminated. Arizona will be the first state in the country to eliminate peremptory challenges entirely during jury selection
What is a Peremptory Challenge?
In it's simplest terms, a peremptory challenge or "strike" is a lawyer's objection to a proposed juror which is made without needing to give a reason. Although a peremptory challenge cannot be used to strike people for reasons such as race, gender or ethnicity, the practice is widely used by attorneys to eliminate people from a jury panel who they view as unfavorable or to structure a jury who might be supportive other position.
During the "void dire," or jury selection process, prospective jurors are asked a number of questions to determine whether:
- they qualify as jurors
- can serve on a jury without substantial hardship
- can be fair and impartial
Usually, someone who doesn't qualify as a potential juror, who would endure hardship by serving as a juror or who cannot be fair and impartial will be automatically eliminated from serving as a juror "for cause." A specific number of other potential jurors can be removed through the use of peremptory challenges.
The Current Rules Concerning Peremptory Challenges in Arizona Criminal Trials:
Jury selection in Arizona criminal cases is governed by Rule 18.5 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. With respect to challenges, fter examining the prospective jurors and completing all challenges for cause, the parties must exercise their peremptory challenges on the list of prospective jurors by alternating strikes, beginning with the prosecutor, until the peremptory challenges are exhausted or a party elects not to exercise further challenges. The number of peremptory challenges permitted in Arizona criminal jury trials is as follows:
- 10, if the offense charged is punishable by death
- 6, in cases which are tried in superior court
- 2, in cases which are tried in city and justice courts
The Effect of Eliminating Peremptory Challenges in Arizona:
As an attorney who exclusively practices Criminal and DUI Defense and has conducted numerous jury trials throughout the greater Phoenix area, I anticipate that the elimination of peremptory challenges will have a significant impact on individuals who are charged with and are being tried for crimes they are alleged to have committed. Undoubtedly, the removal of jurors for cause based on their lack of qualifications, hardship and bias does help to pick an appropriate jury. However, peremptory challenges allow lawyers to eliminate individuals from jury service when they are inconsistent in the responses during the selection process, may not be impartial due to their life experience or occupation or are identified as having a position unfavorable to our clients. Certainly, this will present a major hurdle to people who are hoping to be found Not Guilty after being charged with and tried for a criminal offense.