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A look at the process of jury selection as Greitens trial looms

Susan McGraugh talked to "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh about the process of jury selection.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Susan McGraugh talked to "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh about the process of jury selection.

Jury selection is underway in the felony invasion of privacy trial of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. There are currently 160 prospective jurors, who will be questioned until the first day of trial, which is scheduled for Monday.

Susan McGraugh, professor of law and supervisor of the Criminal Defense Clinic at Saint Louis University, joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to talk about the voire dire process, which began Thursday.

McGraugh attended the first of four sessions of voire dire questioning earlier in the day. She said the potential jurors are asked about hardships, opinions and biases that would prevent them from being able to fairly deliberate as part of the jury.

In a process of elimination, questions relevant to the Greitens case are asked to determine “who will buy into your theory of the case, whether you’re the [lawyer for] state or the defense,” she added. She mentioned two main ways the judge “strikes out” potential jurors, one of them the result of peremptory challenges: objections about someone that a defendant or lawyer for whatever reason simply doesn’t want on the case.

“And jurors struck for cause are jurors who can’t be on the jury because they for one reason or another cannot follow the law,” she said. In addition, those who have formed solid opinions about the guilt or innocence of Greitens and aren’t able to put those feelings aside are eliminated. 

For this high-profile case, each prospective juror has to fill out a two-page questionnaire about publicity.

“That’s unusual. We normally don’t have jury questionnaires in the city, but I suppose [Circuit Judge Rex Burlison] thinks this is a better way to get more information, more quickly,” McGraugh said.

Responsibilities of the selected jurors

McGraugh said that once the jurors are selected, they are not to investigate the case and are to limit themselves to the evidence that’s in the courtroom during the case.

“The judge gave them an admonition and he said that, ‘You’re not to investigate this case.’ They can’t go on social media and look up facts, they can’t talk to their neighbors, they can’t talk to their families,” she explained.

If a juror is found to have discussed confidential information regarding the trial, they will be removed from the case and replaced with one of three alternates ready to take their place.

The United States is one of the few countries that have a jury system to help determine the outcome of trials.

“Jury trials are the greatest protection that the U.S. has against tyranny – that’s why we instituted them, so that you can have your neighbor and other people in your community make a decision about your criminal case instead of someone who might have bias or might have power,” McGraugh said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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