San Fernando is a Conservative Jury Pool
I've been doing jury trials in the San Fernando courthouse for twenty-five years. The first thing you need to consider is the jury pool there. Regarding LA County, the San Fernando courthouse jury pool is a conservative one. They're drawing jurors from Canyon Country, Saugus, and Valencia. Believe it or not, they don't get a lot of jurors from San Fernando, which would probably be a more liberal jury pool.
So, if you're going to try a case in San Fernando, you're going to try it in front of a typically conservative jury pool. So, whatever issues you have in the case and whatever your theory is, it will have to be contemplated when you decide to try a point in the San Fernando courthouse.
What happens is you start in the arraignment court, enter a not guilty plea, then they move you into one of the preliminary hearing courts. Once you do the preliminary hearing, you go to the trial court, and then approximately sixty days from there, you're entitled to have your trial.
As far as the San Fernando trials go, they typically set the case for a seven of ten, which means that it is seven of ten calendar days. When you show up on the seven of ten dates in the trial court in San Fernando, the judge will ask both sides if they're ready to do the trial. If both sides announce the prosecution and the defense in the San Fernando court, they will bring you back the next day, order a jury panel, and begin the trial.
All jurors would want somebody on their trial if they were charged with a fair, open-minded crime and listened to all the evidence. This is where the rubber meets the road, in my opinion, as jury trials go in the San Fernando courthouse and courthouses throughout the nation. If your attorney is not prepared to go into that criminal case, he doesn't have the experience.
He hasn't dealt with the judge before, hasn't dealt with the prosecutors, doesn't know how to develop a theory in a case, cross-examine witnesses, give a closing argument and win a jury trial case. You're not going to get a fair jury trial because the system is set up to put people away. The judges are typically former prosecutors.
A lot of times, they're jaded. They don't know the evidence, so they're just assuming a lot of times, in my opinion at least, that the person is guilty – even though they would never admit that.
They typically order approximately forty-five to sixty jurors. So, when the criminal defense attorneys go to do the jury trial in San Fernando, the courtroom will be crowded, and they will start picking a jury.
Voir Dire Process
The judge will give general comments and statements to the whole potential jury pool. He'll introduce all the parties – the defense lawyer, the prosecution, the judge's court staff, and the judge will introduce him or herself to all the jurors and may even read a few of the jury instructions that are general and relevant to a San Fernando jury case. Then the voir dire process will begin.
In that process, the judge asks the jurors many general questions. After the judge is done asking all of their questions, the attorneys will be allowed to ask questions of specific jurors in the jury box. Often, what they do in these San Fernando Jury trials is they put twelve people in the box. They also put another six people outlined up across the front of the jury box. As peremptory challenges take out jurors, new jurors are put in.
They typically don't' use the full names of jurors on the record in these jury trials in San Fernando, so they can keep everything confidential. The judge will also take up issues with jurors who think they can't serve on the jury because they either have to work, travel on some vacation, or have other obligations like childcare.
Defense Lawyer Questioning Jurors
So, when you're coming into a system like that, you better have a criminal defense attorney that can quickly turn the tide to get the result you need. I ask jurors all the time in the San Fernando courthouse – when you came in here today and looked at the defendant sitting next to me, how many of you thought he was guilty just because he was charged with a crime and sitting in the defendant's seat?
After the defense lawyers are done questioning the jurors, the judge will ask if there are any challenges for cause. This means that the defense lawyers hear or see anything during the voir dire that makes them think that the particular juror would not be fair, or the defense attorney feels that the specific juror will be biased.
If there are, the defense lawyers will come up the sidebar where nobody can hear. However, it will still be recorded by the court reporter and the particular attorney – who doesn't want a specific juror on the panel because they feel that juror is biased in the San Fernando jury trial – who will explain to the judge why they think they're limited. The other lawyer will have a chance to respond to that, and the judge will make a ruling.
Once all the challenges for cause are done, the judge will start to let each side use peremptory challenges to get rid of jurors who don't want to sit on their client's jury panel. Once all the preemptory challenges are used, or once both sides accept the board as constituted, the jurors will be sworn in. Two or three alternates will also be picked if some of the jurors get sick during the San Fernando jury trial, and then the problem will begin with opening statements.
Opening Statements and Closing Arguments
The prosecutor will go first, and the defense will give an opening statement. After the opening remarks, the prosecutors will be the first to put on evidence because they have the burden of proof in the case.
The defense will get to cross-examine each one of their witnesses. Then the reason will be given the opportunity, if they choose, to put on any evidence, including the defendant. Then after that, the prosecutors can put on any rebuttal witnesses to refute what the defense put on and then move into closing arguments.
Each side will get a chance to do a closing argument, and then the prosecutor will get the final word again because they have the burden. Then the judge will read all the jury instructions to the San Fernando Jury, and then they will be allowed to go back and discuss the case and see if they can reach a verdict on each of the counts. A future sentencing date will typically be set if there's a guilty verdict. If there's a not guilty verdict, the case will end at that point.
So, that's my job as a criminal defense attorney to figure out which jurors will not be fair and get rid of them. Get them off the panel to get jurors on there that will be fair, that will listen to the evidence, because most of the time when I'm going to trial in San Fernando, I've got a good case.
I've got a winnable case because you're not going to take a chance to a jury trial if you know what you're doing if you don't have a solid argument to defend your client and win the case.