Massachusetts law about jury selection

A compilation of laws, rules, cases, and web sources on the law about how attorneys may select juries for trials.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.234A, §§ 67A-67D Examination of jurors

Court rules

Selected cases

Federal cases

  • Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)
    "Exclusion of black citizens from service as jurors constitutes a primary example of the evil the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to cure."
  • Flowers v. Mississippi, 588 U.S. __, 139 S.Ct. 2228 (2019)
    "The trial court at Curtis Flowers’ sixth murder trial committed clear error in concluding that the state’s peremptory strike of a particular black prospective juror was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent...Reversed and remanded."
  • Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California, 464 U.S. 501 (1984)
    The court held that the guarantees of open public proceedings in criminal trials embodied in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution cover voir dire examination of potential jurors. Trial court cannot close without specific findings that an open proceeding threatened the defendant's right to a fair trial and the right to privacy of the prospective jurors and without considering available alternatives.
  • Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984)
    Articulates the 4 requirements for closure of a courtroom — overriding public interest, narrowly tailored closure, consideration of reasonable alternatives, and judicial findings supporting closure.
  • Weaver v. Massachusetts, 582 US __,  137 S. Ct. 1899 (2017)
    "[W]hile the public-trial right is important for fundamental reasons, in some cases an unlawful closure might take place and yet the trial still will be fundamentally fair from the defendant’s standpoint...Thus, when a defendant raises a public-trial violation via an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim,...the burden is on the defendant to show either a reasonable probability of a different outcome in his or her case or... to show that the particular public-trial violation was so serious as to render his or her trial fundamentally unfair."

State cases

  • Com. v. Alves, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 540 (2019)
    Jurors can't be dismissed simply because they think a witness's use of the "N word" would affect their credibility.
  • Com. v. Carter, 488 Mass. 191 (2021)
    "Sexual orientation is a protected class for purposes of objections alleging discrimination in an opposing party's peremptory challenges to potential jurors."
  • Com. v. Colon, 482 Mass. 162 (2019)
    Racial and ethnic prejudice. Going forward, in cases involving murder, rape, and sexual offenses against children ..., judges should grant a defendant's request for individual voir dire on the issue of racial or ethnic prejudice, if the defendant and the victim are of different racial or ethnic backgrounds."
  • Com. v. Downey, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 224 (2010)
    "Conviction must be reversed because the closure of the courtroom during jury impanelment violated his right to a public trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution."
  • Com. v. Espinal, 482 Mass. 190 (2019)
    Non-English speaking defendant. "where the fact of a defendant's inability to speak English is reasonably likely to become known to the jury, we urge the trial judge to inquire, upon the request of the defendant, whether any prospective juror harbors bias toward non-English speakers. "
  • Com. v. Heywood, 484 Mass. 43 (2020)
    Blind juror. Given the type of evidence to be presented in a case, it was appropriate to allow a blind juror to serve.
  • Com. v. Shea, 460 Mass 163 (2011)
    Outlines best practices for voir dire. "The better practice is to ask jurors to raise their hands in response to each question when they answer in the affirmative, request court officers to read the juror numbers of those raising their hands into the record, and allow the parties, the judge, and the court clerk to know (and the record to preserve) who answered "yes" to which question, so that a juror can be reminded of the answer if the juror fails to mention it at sidebar during individual voir dire, and appropriate inquiry can take place."
  • Com. v. Robertson, 480 Mass. 383 (2018)
    "Where a juror’s membership in a protected class is reasonably in dispute, trial judges...ought to presume that the juror is a member of the protected class at issue.
  • Com. v. Sanchez, 485 Mass. 491 (2020)
    Dismissing potential jurors because of race. The court "retired the specific language of Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, 486, 489-490, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 881 (1979), "that requires, at the first step of an inquiry into potentially improper peremptory challenges on the basis of race, a showing of a "pattern of conduct" and a "likelihood" of exclusion based solely on group membership, and this court adopted the language employed in Federal cases, i.e., that the presumption of propriety in such challenges is rebutted when the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose."
  • Com. v. Toolan, 460 Mass. 452 (2011)
    Defendant was entitled to new trial based on possible juror prejudice where judge failed to question prospective jurors in a way that he could determine each juror was impartial despite exposure to media coverage
  • Com. v. Williams, 481 Mass. 443 (2019)
    Where a prospective juror had expressed the opinion that "the system is rigged against young African American males," the court held that " asking a prospective juror to put aside his or her preconceived notions about the case to be tried is entirely appropriate (and indeed necessary); however, asking him or her to put aside opinions formed based on his or her life experiences or belief system is not."

Print sources

Art & science of jury selection in criminal cases, MCLE, 2011.

Blue's guide to jury selection, Thomson/West, 2004, with supplement.

Jury selection: the law, art and science of selecting a jury, annual, Thomson West.

LexisNexis practice guide. Massachusetts civil trial practice, annual edition, LexisNexis. Section 1.16[10], Preparing for jury selection.

LexisNexis practice guide: Massachusetts criminal law, annual edition, LexisNexis. Section 5.14, Understanding jury selection. Chapter 7: Challenging jurors, Sections 7.17 – 7.22.

Massachusetts courtroom advocacy, 4th ed., MCLE, loose-leaf. Chapter 3, Jury Selection.

Massachusetts Superior Court civil practice jury instructions, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Section 13.6 Diversity. Section 13.6.1 Implicit Bias.

Mastering voir dire and jury selection: gain an edge in questioning and selecting your jury, 4th ed., ABA, 2018.

Rogers, Alan, "An anchor to the windward: the right of the accused to an impartial jury in Massachusetts capital cases," 33 Suffolk U L Rev 35 (1999-2000). An exhaustive history. 

Trial handbook for Massachusetts lawyers, 3rd ed., West Group, 1999 with supplement. Chapter 6, Selection of the jury, Sections 6:1 – 6:39.

Trial practice, 3rd ed. (Mass. Practice v.43A) Thomson Reuters, 2017 with supplement. Chapter 10, Jury selection, Sections 10:1 – 10:28.

Voir dire: watch and learn, MCLE, 2017. 



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Last updated: April 11, 2022