Dr. Manges Ph.D. | Forensic Psychologist | Expert Witness

Can We Talk Honestly in Public?

“We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary.
Thoughts live; they travel far.”

-Swami Vivekananda

Jury deselection, in Texas, Florida, Ohio, New York, Illinois and elsewhere can be a challenge. The judge has discretion as to if what and how long a Voir Dire may take. Group Voir Dire is the rule because individual Voir Dire consumes too much time and lacks the efficiency of asking everyone the same questions simultaneously. Let’s face it because litigation is also about economics and group Voir Dire helps to move the case along, individual Voir Dire is the go-to choice.

When should an individual Voir Dire motion be considered? Part of the answer is when there are socially sensitive issues and community prejudices that would not likely be admitted to by a juror in open court.

Nietzel et. al., writing in Law and Human Behavior, studied the effects of individually questioning jurors with 13 capital murder cases and found more defense challenges for cause were sustained when jurors were questioned individually than when questioned as a group.

In a separate study Nietzel et. al. made a similar finding where in 18 other capital murder cases defense challenges for cause were granted when the jurors were questioned individually than when questioned in a group.

This author found in separate cases when an issue of a sexual crime was the focus of attention at trial that individual Voir Dire provided more juror refusal to participate due to personal prejudice when compared to similar cases in which individual Voir Dire was not requested by defense counsel.

It would not be uncommon for a juror to resist speaking about a personal prejudice or sensitivity in court. It is unlikely that a juror would request of the judge a personal conference to discuss their distress. Nor would it be uncommon for a juror to remain silent and not disclose their prejudice so as to avoid a personal embarrassment.

However, it would be appropriate and sensitive for an attorney to anticipate such sensitive issues and to make the request of the court for individual Voir Dire; even if based on past experience, the judge was considered less than accommodating.

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