Group Voir Dire II


Gideon commented on my earlier Group Voir Dire post:

Thanks for the insight! It seems that both have their advantages.

I’m still concerned that people in group sessions might not express their true feelings in the presence of others. For example, if someone has a strong feeling that anyone who is arrested is guilty, might not reveal that if the person before them has said that they are not guilty and the attorneys have displayed some sort of affirmation.

How are the jurors excused? In CT, after the questioning, the juror is asked to leave the room and then the judge and attorneys discuss whether to accept, excuse for cause or use a peremptory. Then the juror is called back in and simply told that they’re either on or off.

That might affect some of the answers of the others too, if it is done in front of everyone else.

I like the individual voir dire because it gives me an opportunity to talk to a person one-on-one and ask as many questions as I like to get a sense of what they think; to delve deeper into some of their responses, creates a more personal feel, as if we were becoming friends.

People in group sessions may, indeed, not express their true feelings in the presence of others. When one person says “arrested doesn’t mean guilty” the lawyer, if he wants to get any more information out of the group, has to make room for contrary viewpoints. I might say to Mr. Smith, “Lots of people you know disagree with you, don’t they.” Then to the group, “Who here disagrees with Ms. Smith?”(People may not express their true feelings in the presence of only the lawyers, since they know what the correct answer is supposed to be in that situation.)

Different Texas courts excuse jurors differently. What I’ve seen most is this: the judge talks to the jurors, the prosecutor talks to the jurors, and the defender talks with the jurors. Then the judge and lawyers confer at the bench about challenges for cause. If further questioning is required in connection with a challenge for cause on a particular potential juror, that juror is brought up to the bench and the challenge is solidified or the juror is rehabilitated. After the judge has determined who will be excused for cause, the panel is given a break as the lawyers mark their peremptory challenges on their jury lists. The lawyers turn in their lists to the clerk, who collates them and hands the judge a list of the jurors on the case. After the jurors’ break, the judge reads out the juror numbers and names of the people who will be on the jury and, if the lawyers agree (and don’t have any Batson objections) the rest of the panel is excused.

Some Texas criminal courts will require lawyers to exercise their challenges for cause as they arise. This taints the rest of the process, however, because potential jurors who want to serve (or don’t) will see their fellows excused and tailor their own responses to avoid a challenge for cause (or force one).

I would prefer more time to ask more questions of each person, but a properly conducted group voir dire allows the lawyer to make a personal connection with each juror — obviously not as much as individual voir dire.

As much as I like the idea of becoming friends with each of twelve individual jurors who will eventually reach twelve independent verdicts, that doesn’t seem to be how the dynamics operate in the jury room. Rather, the jury operates as a group. I think it would be much more difficult to anticipate how the jurors would operate in a group when they are chosen individually.

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