Apr 21, 2019 Jury selection- Fairfax criminal lawyer on early disclosure about sentencing
Jury selection in Virginia usually omits advising of penalty ranges
Jury selection is a critical part of criminal defense. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know that the voir dire/juror selection process is very important for trial lawyers to remove the least favorable jurors, to prevent the opponent from striking favorable jurors, to learn about the jurors in order to focus evidence and arguments accordingly, to enable the jurors to learn about the lawyer’s theory of the case, and to get the jurors into a talking mode so that they will do the same in the juror deliberation room.
Voir dire is not unlimited in Virginia
As harsh as the Virginia criminal justice system generally is when compared to its two northern neighboring jurisdictions, a blessing in Virginia is that lawyers in criminal and civil cases get to question and talk with potential jurors at length in the jury selection/ voir dire process.
I know as a Fairfax criminal lawyer that attorney-conducted voir dire is not unfettered. Two and one-half years ago, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Bernhard issued a letter opinion that telling potential jurors about the sentencing range in a criminal case rests in the trial judge’s sound discretion, and that the lawyers themselves cannot address that to the jury venire panel. Virginia v. Barela, 96 Va. Cir. 404 (Fairfax Cir., Sept. 28, 2017).
Fairfax lawyer thinks judges are premature to disclose sentencing ranges to minimize juror nullification
In his Barela letter opinion, Judge Bernhard addresses the risk of jury nullification with some juries when the potential jurors do not know in advance the penalties.
Juries have awesome sentencing power. I do not want a hang ’em high jury. Instead, I want a compassionate jury that (only after delivering a conviction) may well be horrified to learn the harsh sentencing range faced by my client, rather than a jury that will be inoculated about the sentencing range during jury selection. It is premature to tell potential jurors about sentencing ranges in the event of a conviction.
Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz pursues your best defense against felony, misdemeanor, DUI and drug prosecutions. To discuss your case in confidence with Jon Katz, please call his staff at 703-381-1100 to schedule an appointment.