By Dr. Ken Manges Ph.D. | Forensic Psychologist

Voir Dire Facts – Part II

Upon entering the courtroom on the first day of trial, you should be ready to jump right in to voir dire. You should know all the necessary procedures for the court in which you are presenting your case. You will have the background information you will need on the potential jurors. You should have your questions ready to go in some order to measure the jurors against your profile of the “ideal juror.” Lastly, you will have a plan mapped out as to how to go about deselecting the fairest and impartial jury that will be favorable to your client.

Even after all this preparation, you are not finished. You will now meet the jurors face-to-face and have the opportunity to observe them as they observe you.

Some key points to consider on the day of voir dire:

  • Study jurors before questions begin – observe them (i.e. race, demeanor, age, physical fitness, how they respond to those around them, reading materials, alert or dull, the manner of dress) (Turley).
  • Show them you are organized, businesslike, serious, warm, and calm (Turley).
  • Prepare a seating chart as jurors are called to the jury box and try to memorize their names so that when questioning them, you can call them by name (Gouldin, 1969; Werchick, 1982).
  • When it is your turn to question the prospective jurors (Gouldin, 1969):
    • First, introduce yourself
    • Recite briefly the kind of case they will be called upon to decide
  • Your tone of voice should be cordial without becoming insincerely friendly (Werchick, 1982).
  • Standing 3-6 feet from the jury while question them has been found to encourage honest communication (Covington, 1985).
  • When questioning jurors (Gouldin, 1969):
    • Question each juror separately – only briefly.
    • Use each juror’s name from memory or referring to the list.
    • Look at the jurors as you question them and not other objects in the room.
    • Make it clear your question is directed at obtaining a fair and impartial jury for your client.
    • Make sure the questions are easily understandable – if a juror looks puzzled he/she doesn’t under the question; assume responsibility for your error that the question was not understood.
    • When asking preliminary questions, ask general questions that will elicit a few affirmative responses to show jurors that there is no stigma attached to replying affirmatively.
    • Ask more open-ended questions to get more than yes/no responses and gain insight into their attitudes.
    • Get “commitment” from the jurors that they will decide the case on the facts and law and not on emotions such as sympathy or prejudice.
  • In most cases, your inquiry will cover the jurors’ (Gouldin, 1969):
    • Acquaintanceship with the parties, lawyers, partners and associates, and witnesses
    • Familiarity with the subject matter of litigation
    • Prior experience as a juror
    • Understanding of the legal procedures
    • The attitude on specific issues in the case
    • Willingness to apply the law involved in the case

Observation in jury selection is a learned skill. I hope these tips assist you.

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