For some unknown reason, and much to his chagrin (I imagine), my dad is one of those poor, unfortunate souls who seems to receive a jury summons on a semi-regular basis. And being civic-minded, he responds and goes to the courthouse and sits on a jury panel each time. He has sat through as many voir dire sessions as anyone I can think of. Most recently, he sat through the voir dire of a federal criminal prosecution, but was ultimately struck through the jury. So I thought it appropriate to conclude this series with the perspective of someone on the receiving end of voir dire questions.
Voir Dire from the Jury Panel: A Non-Lawyer’s Perspective
When I asked whether he was able to tell what the lawyers were attempting to accomplish with their voir dire questions, he said both the prosecution and defense in his most recent case were clear in this regard. He rated both attorneys as 10/10 for effectiveness because of their ability to communicate well. My dad was unable to point to anything he believed that either side could have done better because they “were very adept in their presentation.”
He would have found it ineffective if the attorneys had not asked questions that clued the jury panel in on the case. This was a case involving domestic violence, and the attorneys polled the panel about having histories of domestic violence in their own homes, as well as family and friends. As far cluing the jury panel in on themes or theories of the case, the prosecution presented facts about the case through his questions. The defense’s method was to discredit the prosecution by insinuating to the jury the prosecution was making up facts.
My dad’s advice to any lawyer conducting a voir dire is this: “present factual information, look, and listen to the answers being given by the prospective jurors.” It’s straightforward and should be common sense, but sometimes we can out-think ourselves.
Photo by Mark Sabeano.