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Choosing jurors in sex offense trials

On Behalf of | Nov 4, 2022 | Criminal Defense

One of the hallmarks of the U.S. judicial system is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Texas prosecutors want to ensure that they have all of the facts and evidence needed for a solid conviction before bringing a case, especially when the crime is sexual in nature.

That care extends to jury selection, where both the prosecution and the defense attorneys try to ensure that prospective jurors will be able to fairly evaluate a case on its merits rather than emotion.

This leads to the question of whether victims of sexual abuse or their families should be excluded from jury duty when the charge is an offense of that nature.

Bias in jury selection

Historically, sex offenses are notoriously difficult to prosecute. There are often no witnesses and little physical evidence, which leaves one person’s word against another’s as the basis of the case.

On average, 61% of the population has experienced a sexual assault at some point in their lives. Excluding such a large demographic from the jury pool not only unfairly stigmatizes survivors, but also shrinks the availability of otherwise qualified jurors.

This could unjustly impact a defendant’s ability to have a demographically diverse jury of their peers and delay their day in court. The unforeseen consequence is a violation of the right to a fair and speedy trial.

On the other hand, a juror who is familiar with the nature of such crimes could actually help the defense by noticing testimony or evidence that doesn’t seem right.

The final verdict

As much as jurors are instructed to consider only the facts of any given case, they are still people who are susceptible to human emotions and biases. However, studies show that sex assault survivors, although they generally have more empathy toward victims, are no more likely than those who have not experienced sex abuse first hand to allow emotion to overrule facts and reason.