Group Voir Dire

Gideon asks how jurisdictions with group voir dire handle “jurors’ reluctance to disclose sensitive or embarrassing information in the presence of the entire jury panel and courtroom observers.”

The answer to his question in Texas, where all non-capital voir dire is done in groups (generally of 20 or more potential jurors for a 6-person misdmeanor jury and of 50 or more potential jurors for a 12-person felony jury), is that jurors with sensitive or embarrassing answers to the lawyers’ questions are invited to reveal them to the lawyers on the record but away from the rest of the jury.

This got me thinking about some of the good things about the way we pick a jury.

There are things that we can do in group voir dire that we couldn’t do in individual voir dire. For example, in group voir dire we can get people talking by playing the venirepeople off on each other: “Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones says that she will hold it against Joe if he doesn’t testify. How do you feel about that?” or “Ms. Brown says that it should be against the law to drink and drive. Who agrees with her? Raise your hands.”

People will reveal more of themselves if you reveal something of yourself. “Show me yours and I’ll show you mine” applies in jury selection. In a group voir dire, it’s easy to get people talking less guardedly about their feelings and opinions because they can hear their fellow potential jurors sharing their thoughts and not being laughed at or shunned.

Also, with group voir dire it’s possible to form a group of the jury and the lawyer (a strategy I learned at the Trial Lawyers’ College in 1999). Forming a group is considerably more difficult when the lawyer can only talk with each potential juror out of the others’ hearing.
A jury trial is sometimes described as a seduction. I say that voir dire is the first date — an opportunity to tell the other something about yourself, to learn a lot about the other, and to decided whether you want another date. In Texas voir dire is a first date with 24 or 60 people. In individual voir dire states, I suppose it’s 24 or 60 first dates.

Lawyers practicing in individual voir dire states: what advantages does your system have over group voir dire?

0 responses to “Group Voir Dire”

  1. 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 voire 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.

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