Voire Dire - Jury Selection
You've received your summons and arrived at the courthouse at the appointed time and reported to the appointed place. What happens now?
Once the preliminaries (forms, etc.) are over and you are situated in the courtroom, the judge and lawyers will come in for the jury selection process. The judge introduce the case and the lawyers, and likely thank you for appearing for jury duty. Next, the lawyers will ask you questions to reveal any potential biases. This process is called voir dire, a French word meaning “to speak the truth.” The lawyer for the plaintiff will speak with the jury panel first, then the lawyer for the defendant will speak to the jury duty panel. If a bias is present or something in your history reveals a prejudice you will be challenged and excused from jury duty.
Voir dire constitutes a very important part of a jury trial for both the defense and prosecution. Effective voir dire can identify jurors who can be fair and impartial, rather than unfair and biased regarding a particular party or the entire criminal justice system. While both sides are looking for different types of jurors, they essentially have similar goals during the voir dire and jury selection process.
Those goals include beginning to:
- Gather information about individual prospective jurors regarding their potential to be fair-minded and impartial, and to apply the law as instructed;
- Educate the jury about the parties' respective theories of the case;
- Develop a rapport with, and earn the trust and respect of, the jury;
- have the jury see the attorneys as dedicated, hardworking professionals, as well as people they can trust;
- For the prosecution, have the jury see the alleged victim as a real victim deserving of justice for all that he or she has been through, and regarding the accused, to keep and strengthen his or her identity primarily as the defendant;
- For the defense, have the jury see the accused as a multi-dimensional individual and to humanize him or her; introduce the concept of presumed innocent until and unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; introduce the jury to potential problem areas in the case and commence dealing with those weaknesses; and demystify the jury trial process and emphasize the importance, power and serious nature of jury service in a society governed by the rule of law.
During voir dire, the opposing attorneys will ask questions of prospective jurors to learn specific information about them. Some of the most common issues addressed by voir dire questions are whether a prospective juror:
- Has been a party in a similar case before
- Has suffered a similar injury to the one the plaintiff suffered
- Has any family members who have been in a similar case or suffered similar injuries
- Has any experience with issues related to the case, such as insurance, medical training, or the design and manufacturing of certain products
- Knows any of the people associated with the case, including the parties, their witnesses, the attorneys, the judge, or the court staff
The purpose of many of these questions is to reveal whether or not a certain juror has any biases that will make him or her unable to evaluate the facts of the case fairly. For instance, a juror who says he believes most cops are corrupt might not listen fairly to testimony from an officer who responded to the scene of a car accident.
A juror may be struck “for cause,” because a law or court rule prevents that person from serving as a juror, or either side may use a “peremptory strike,” in which they may dismiss a certain juror without saying why. Usually, each side is allowed a limited number of peremptory strikes per case.
Once all the jurors remaining in the jury box pass muster with all of the parties to the case without being struck, the jury is considered to be complete and the trial moves on, usually to preliminary instructions or to opening statements.