Challenge for Cause

Before a trial can begin, a jury of the defendant’s peers must be selected. A pool of prospective jurors is called to the courthouse on a specified date and time, where they are questioned by the attorneys representing the parties, as well as the judge. The purpose of this questioning is to choose jurors who are unlikely to have already formed an opinion about the case, or to have a predetermined attitude toward certain issues or people involved in the case.

This process is referred to as voire dire, and the term challenge for cause, refers to the dismissal of a prospective juror because of a compelling reason to believe the individual could not be fair and unbiased. To explore this concept, consider the following challenge for cause definition.

Definition of Challenge for Cause


  1. A request to dismiss a prospective juror on the grounds that he or she cannot be fair and unbiased, or is otherwise not capable of serving on a jury.

How Does Jury Selection Work

In the United States, jury duty is a service mandatory for all competent adult citizens. Potential jurors who are identified by a variety of records, including voter registration records, Secretary of State records, Department of Motor Vehicles records, are notified by mail of the date and time to report to the courthouse for jury selection.

During the process of voire dire, each of the prospective jurors answers questions posed by the attorneys representing the various parties, as well as the judge. The purpose of this is to determine whether they have preconceived ideas about the case, or about the issues or people involved in the case, with the idea that it would be difficult for such a person to hear and decide the case without prejudice or bias.

Peremptory Challenge vs. Challenge for Cause

During voire dire, each attorney is allowed to dismiss up to a specified number of potential jurors without giving a reason. This number varies by jurisdiction, but is generally between 6 and 20 peremptory challenges per attorney.

Attorneys may ask that a prospective juror be dismissed for some specific reason. This is referred to as a challenge for cause, and is submitted to the judge, who ultimately decides whether to dismiss the individual. Attorneys may make an unlimited number of challenges for cause. A challenge for cause may be made for any reason that the attorney feels would make the individual unable to judge without bias.

For example:

Alexander is facing trial for charges of armed robbery, fleeing from the police, and assault on a police officer. Potential juror number 23 is a retired police officer. It is reasonable to believe that Juror 23 would be unable to maintain an unbiased opinion about Alexander’s crimes, so his attorney makes a challenge for cause, asking the judge to dismiss Juror 23 from the pool.

Grounds for Challenge for Cause

It is important to note that an attorney may not dismiss a prospective juror, whether through peremptory challenge, or challenge for cause, because of race, ethnicity, or religion. A challenge for cause can, however, be made because of a potential juror’s beliefs or past experiences, which may make it difficult to hear a case without bias. For example, a woman who escaped an abusive marriage only after a life-threatening injury, could reasonably be expected to have a bias against a defendant accused of domestic violence.

Additionally, while a juror may not be dismissed because of his religion, a challenge for cause may be requested if the individual specifically states during voire dire that, because of his or her religious beliefs, he or she could not pass judgment on another person. An individual who strongly believes that a law, which is the subject of the case, is not fair, or that it’s potential punishment is not appropriate, may be dismissed in a challenge for cause. Finally, prospective jurors may also be dismissed if they appear to have prior knowledge about the case, even if they have no direct involvement in the case.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Bias – A prejudice or strong feeling in favor of, or against, a person, group, idea, or issue, usually considered to be unfair.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.

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