During jury selection in an accident case, medical malpractice case or even a wrongful death case, each side has an opportunity to excuse a certain number of potential jurors. Typically, each attorney will have the opportunity to excuse three jurors without needing to give any specific reason. That opportunity is known as a “peremptory challenge.”
What happens if the attorney has used up all of his challenges and no longer has any left?
If the attorney determines that one of the potential jurors is just not right for him or his client, he has to probe this person's background by asking questions to determine whether this juror can be fair and impartial if they are chosen to sit on this case.
If there is something in this potential juror's background that would make him biased or prejudiced, then the attorney would have some useful information to bring to the judge who supervises jury selection and explain why this potential juror should not be sitting on this case. That opportunity is known as a “challenge for cause.”
The judge who supervises the jury selection process will then have to determine based upon what the attorneys describe whether this potential juror should be allowed to sit on this case.
The defense attorney will also have an opportunity to explain his position to the judge and whether he believes this juror has expressed a desire to be fair and impartial.
For example, if this potential juror told the lawyers that her husband had a car accident lawsuit and was awarded very little money, and that she was very angry that her husband did not receive compensation, there is the very real possibility that she could take out her anger and hostility in the form of her jury verdict.
If this potential juror told the lawyers that she believed that our system of justice stinks and does not believe anyone who brings a lawsuit is entitled to compensation, do you think she might be prejudiced and not give both sides an opportunity to present their case fairly?
On the other hand, how about a potential juror who tells the attorneys that she believes every injured victim should be entitled to millions of dollars simply because they have chosen to bring a lawsuit. Do you think the defense attorney would be interested in keeping this juror?
A 'challenge for cause' allows the attorney the ability to explain to the judge why this potential juror should not be sitting on this particular case.