What is it?
Here in the States, its been said that many a trial has been won or lost before the arguments even start. How’s that? Well, the jury selection process, if your attorney is good at it, can influence the outcome based on the members who make up the jury. For that, the courts require prospective jurors to go through a process called “voir dire”. It is designed to ensure that one is judged by a jury of their peers. (I’d be interested to know if noders from around the world have similar processes and what those might be).
Voir dire (pronounced vwa –deer) comes from a French term that when loosely translated means ( to see, to speak). It used by trial attorneys and judges to determine if prospective members of a jury might be biased or cannot deal with the issues being argued in a fair manner. It is also used to determine if a prospective juror should be allowed to serve or be disqualified as impartial based upon certain criteria such as:
Prior knowledge regarding the facts of the case
If the prospective juror is acquainted with any of the parties in the case such as other witnesses or attorneys.
If the prospective juror’s occupation might lead to bias
regarding the case.
Prejudicial views regarding the death penalty
Similar experiences such as having been a party in a similar case
I'm a member of a jury pool, what will they ask me?
Attorneys for both the prosecution and defense use questions asked during the voir dire process to get a “feel” for the jury and to decide which of the prospective jurors might be sympathetic to their case. Prospective jurors can be excused for either “cause” (see above for a sampling of reasons) or something called a “peremptory” challenge in which the attorneys do not have to state any reason for excusing a prospective juror. The attorneys are limited as to the number of peremptory challenges.
Here’s a sampling of questions that might be asked of prospective jurors. Naturally these questions would vary depending on the specifics of the case but in general, by answering these questions (hopefully truthfully!), lawyers for the opposing sides can get a good feel for the members who will eventually compose the jury.
What do you do for a living?
Who are you employed by?
How long have you been there?
Are you a full time or part time employee?
What is the main activity or your employer?
Do you have a second job?
(If yes, expect to be asked for an explanation)
If so, what is it?
What is your title or position at your primary employer?
Do you manage or supervise other personnel?
Have you ever managed or supervised other employees?
What other lines of work have you been in and for how long?
Were you ever a member of a union
? ( If the answer = yes, you can count on being asked to give an explanation)
Did you ever run/own your own business
? ( same as above)
Are there any other adult
s living with you? ( If the answer = yes, expect some follow up questions)
Are you married?
Where do you presently live?
Where have you lived in the past?
Please state your educational background and major area(s) of study.
Any other educational programs?
Have you ever done any volunteer
work? (If answer = yes, be prepared to give a list of those organizations)
Do you have kids? (If answer = yes, be prepared to give ages/occupations)
Do you have any relatives or friends who are either judges or attorneys?
Are you a member of any civic
/social/religious organization? (If yes, be prepared to explain)
What are your hobbies?
Have your or members of your family ever filed a lawsuit?
( If yes, be prepared for a whole line of questioning such as who filed the suit, how was it resolved, what it was about, and how you felt at the conclusion of the case)
Have you or members of your family ever been sue
d? (see above)
Have you ever provided testimony
in a trial? (see above)
Have you ever hired an attorney before? ( If yes, get ready for another whole line of questions)
What magazines do you read or subscribe to?
Have you ever written a letter to the editor? (If yes, you can expect some more questions)
Have you ever served on a jury before?( If yes, you can expect many more questions about your prior jury service such as case details/outcome, etc)
This was a pretty standard list of questions but I think you can get the idea. Again, the line questions and the details of the answers will vary greatly depending upon the circumstances surrounding each individual case.
My ex-spouse is a public defender in the Court of Common Pleas. When cases couldn’t be pled out for some reason and she was forced to go to trial, she would have to conduct the voir dire process from the defense standpoint. One of her standard questions was to ask something along the lines of:
“When you were a child, were you ever accused of something you didn’t do?”
If the prospective juror answered “No”, they were a candidate for a peremptory challenge. She felt that most people have been accused at one time or another of something they didn’t do.
If the answer was “Yes”, she would follow up with a question along the lines of “How did that make you feel?” Depending on the prospective juror’s answer, she would make a determination as to whether they were going to be sympathetic to either the defense or the prosecution.
Last but not least, voir dire can best be described as an interesting process. Lawyers are asked to play the role of psychologist in getting a feel for jury selection. For good or bad, more and more research is presently being conducted in the United States regarding the jury selection process and the outcomes of trials. The questions are becoming more refined and in my humble opinion, “jury profiling” is not in the too distant future. There has even been some mention of “professional juries” where members are not chosen from a pool of citizens but instead it would be their “job” to sit in judgment on those accused. If memory serves me correct, the prosecution (the state) favors the approach while the defense is against it.
Let the debate begin