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Re: [humanism-174] My day in Jury Duty - from Sheri

From: user 1.
Sent on: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 4:28 PM
Sheri,

I enjoy hearing perspectives from the other side of the rail.  As someone who has seated a lot of jurors in my career, I can tell you we mostly don't care about religious beliefs except to the extent they could cloud your judgment of the facts or of your ability to make findings in accordance with the law.  All we lawyers care about is winning the case.  The judge, in the interests of saving time, asks general questions and explores particular general issues, excusing people who would be objectionable for obvious reasons.  The judge's questions and the prospective juror's answers also give lawyers insight into what issues they may want to explore further with particular jurors. 

Lawyers also have access to metrics that help us to decide if we might not want to risk sitting you on the jury.  Mostly we ask questions in voir dire to determine where you might fall in the metrics.  I don't know of any metrics which would suggest an atheist should be disqualified in general and in general a person who identifies as an atheist is seldom disqualified for that reason alone. 

And just to be clear here, there are two kinds of challenges to a juror, one for cause and the second a peremptory challenge.  A challenge for cause requires the judge to agree with the attorney raising the challenge that the prospective juror shouldn't be seated.  I have never seen atheism serve as the sole basis for successfully challenging a juror for cause, though I could imagine such a thing happening in other jurisdictions, particularly in more conservative jurisdictions. 

A peremptory challenge is the lawyer's exclusive choice, which the judge MUST accept regardless of whether or not the judge agrees with the disqualification or not.  So a lawyer could use a peremptory challenge against an atheist.  But peremptory challenges are limited, which again means lawyers don't like to waste them on atheists without more reason because the metrics we use mostly say that being an atheist doesn't matter.

If you had been questioned by the lawyers, they likely wouldn't have even asked you about your atheism.

The long and the short of it is, although lawyers and judges do have their particular idiosyncrasies, in my experience by and large around here you shouldn't expect to be disqualified merely for being an atheist unless, say, one of the parties in the litigation is a church or the defense is somehow based upon the accused's religious belief or something odd like that.

Paul

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