Using large rosters, including counties’ voter registration lists and the state driver’s license database, the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia creates and maintains a statewide master source list of prospective jurors. Each year, the state source list is divided into 159 county master jury lists, from which the county clerks of each of Georgia’s 159 counties randomly select individuals to comprise that particular county’s jury pool for its criminal and civil trials. The Legislature created this method to ensure that county jury pools reflect as closely as possible the demographic makeup of the county. The law went into effect in July 2012.
In Georgia, all criminal defendants are entitled to a trial by a jury, which, per the U.S. Constitution, must be fair and impartial. The means by which this right is guaranteed is a process called voir dire, during which prospective jurors are questioned to determine whether they have a connection to the case or any other interest that could prevent them from rendering an unbiased opinion in the matter.
If a potential juror is biased, he or she is struck from the pool. In addition to these unlimited “for cause” challenges, each side in a criminal case has a limited number of peremptory challenges. These permit the prosecution and defendant to strike jurors without stating their reasons, provided the challenge is not used to exclude the prospective juror on account of race or gender.
Georgia uses six-person juries in misdemeanor trials and 12-person juries in felony trials, and all verdicts in criminal trials must be unanimous. Alternate jurors also are regularly seated. These alternates are selected in the same manner as regular jurors and hear the evidence presented in a case. But they don’t take part in deliberation unless called upon to replace a regular juror.
The 12-member jury in the Justin Chapman murder case deliberated for 40 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. Chapman is the subject of a special podcast series called “Breakdown,” by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This site includes the podcast episodes, plus extra materials such as photos, videos, a timeline and more.