What is a Challenge for Cause?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A challenge for cause is a request which an attorney can file during the jury selection phase of a jury trial to have a prospective juror struck because he or she would not be suitable for the trial. As the term implies, in a challenge for cause, the attorney must provide a reason for removing a juror from a trial. Attorneys can also use a limited number of peremptory strikes, in which they can remove jurors without having to give a reason.

A juror's stance on the death penalty can play an important role in jury selection for capital offenses.
A juror's stance on the death penalty can play an important role in jury selection for capital offenses.

Jury trials are designed to introduce fairness into the justice system. In the jury selection phase, a large pool of prospective jurors is gathered, and they are questioned in groups to find a group of people who will be suitable to sit on the trial. The questioning, known as voir dire, is used to remove people who may be biased, who would have difficulty sitting on the case, or who, for other reasons, may not be suitable for the case.

To remove a juror an attorney may be required to provide substantial reasoning for why he or she should be removed.
To remove a juror an attorney may be required to provide substantial reasoning for why he or she should be removed.

A compelling reason for a challenge for cause is a relationship to someone involved in the case, including one of the attorneys, the defendant, the judge, a plaintiff, or a victim. This can include blood relationships as well as personal or professional ones; the spouse of the judge, for example, could not sit on the jury, and a landlord could not be on the jury for a trial involving a tenant. It is believed that relationships to people involved in the case could create bias.

A challenge for cause can also be related to experiences or beliefs on the part of the juror which might make it difficult to hear a case fairly. For example, someone who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver cannot sit on a trial involving drunk driving. Likewise, people with prejudicial beliefs would be poor choices for a jury. Attorneys may also strike people who are knowledgeable about a case, even if they are not directly involved with it, as well as jurors who have been involved in a civil trial regarding the same case, or who sat on a jury in a prior trial which was later set aside as a result of an appeal.

Beliefs that a law is unfair or a penalty is not appropriate are also grounds for a challenge for cause. In nations which use the death penalty, people who believe that the death penalty is wrong are struck from juries which serve on capital cases.

Jury trials are designed to introduce fairness into the justice system.
Jury trials are designed to introduce fairness into the justice system.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Burlap, for the very passionate reasons you describe we must keep challenge for cause actions available to attorneys. If they recognize throughout a trial that there is some sort of less then legal happenings with a member of the jury, we need a process in place to remove them and continue with a fair trial. Humans are not perfect and neither are the systems that they create.

Juror selection is complicated and takes time, spend the money and get the justice every human deserves.


We can complain and belly-ache about the troubles associated with obtaining a fair, just and balanced jury for the criminal trail of the suspected but the reality is that we need such a process to ensure that we can be sure in our efforts to provide justice.

If you were wrongly arrested and accused of committing a crime that you honestly never committed then I'm certain that you would want the most rigorous juror selection process possible as to weed out anyone that might discriminate against you for whatever reason.

Simple things like a woman not liking another woman's hair style can effect how she views a defendant or witness. Another man might be jealous of the social status of another or perhaps look down upon a witness, victim or defendant because of the clothes that they wear or the lisp in their voice.

I think it is impossible for any human to completely remove themselves from the confines of daily judgment but there are individuals that are more adept to it and have a higher sense of justice. These people are the folks that we want in the jury box whether we are the victim, defendant or attorney. It is when we achieve this highest level of juror integrity that we can call our system a just and fair one.

I say, take all the time you need lawyers and judges, make the best possible choices and ensure that we keep the guilty in jail and the innocent out.


@MrPolitic99, you are most certainly right sir. Our juror selection process for criminal court cases here in the United States is a very unwieldy beast.

Like MrPolitic stated, it is quite horrific to see the absolutely mind-blowing slowness that the charade of jury selection takes place at. Members of the public are called in by groups, some not being called at all but still having to show up everyday to wait their turn at the interrogation of both the judge and the attorneys from the different sides of the aisle.

After some routine information is given by the prospective jurors, often without any concerns for their privacy, a more rigorous set of questions can often be asked to help further determine if the person is fit to provide an unbiased analysis of the trial.

In the end, the jurors are selected and the trial starts but not without having caused a major headache and disruption to several dozen, sometimes hundreds of peoples lives in the process for one trial.

It just seems kind of ridiculous to take that long.


@secenseas, you are right. It is critical and a major fabric of our nations justice system that we have unbiased jurors doing the duty that we require of them.

I have to wonder though, as with most things in the dealings of a lawyer, how often is this tool properly used. Are there examples of curruptness interferring with lady justice and the balance of her scale?

Either way there is without a doubt the room for unjust workings if an attorney did want to swing a jury because personal information has come forward about a juror.

The other question to ask is do we trust our jury selection process enough to eliminate the challenge for cause and simply not allow any juror to be kicked off. After all, doing so would then admit that the original selection process is flawed.

Because I am not an attorney nor a professor of law I cannot argue with merit as to the functionality of our juror selection process but I can tell you it is disturbing if you have ever experienced one.


I think that the prosecuting and the defending lawyers have a chance by direct examination to excuse a prospective juror from the trial.

To be an unbiased juror is a very important task, one that has to be taken extremely seriously, because other peoples freedoms are at stake.

You definitely do not want to put an innocent person behind bars, but on the other hand, you do not want to let a guilty person go free.

So I can see the need to have some prospective jurors, and occasionally even a juror serving on a case excused.

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