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Voir Dire, n

What Is Voir Dire?

Voir dire is the process of jury selection during which lawyers, a judge, or both question potential jurors to determine their fitness to serve on the jury panel of a particular trial.

Voir dire can also describe the preliminary questioning of witnesses, such as expert witnesses, to determine their competence to testify in a trial.

Finally, voir dire can describe any hearing that takes place during a trial and outside of the presence of the jury.

What Is the Purpose of Voir Dire in Jury Selection?

Jury duty is one of the most important civil responsibilities held by American citizens. Because jurors play such a crucial role in preserving a fair trial, lawyers and judges need to make sure that jury members can be impartial.

What Does Voir Dire Mean for Jurors?

During the voir dire process, jurors can expect to be asked many questions by the judge and both parties' attorneys. These questions attempt to reveal any biases the potential jurors have that could jeopardize the outcome of the case.

The presiding judge also asks prospective jurors standard questions to make sure they are capable of jury service, such as making sure they are U.S. citizens and that there are not any hardships that prevent them from serving.

After the questioning is completed, attorneys for both sides can request the removal of any juror who does not appear to be capable of rendering a fair and impartial verdict. There is no limit on the "strikes for cause" that attorneys can request and have granted by the trial court judge.

Both attorneys also have the right to reject a limited number of potential jurors without cause, meaning they do not have to fully explain the reasoning to the judge. This is called the right to peremptory challenges.

Examples of Strikes for Cause

There can be many reasons why a member of the jury pool could be removed for cause, many of which have to do with the facts of the particular case. Examples include:

  • A potential juror has knowledge of the facts of the case
  • A potential juror knows one of the parties, witnesses, or attorneys
  • A potential juror works for or with one of the parties, or their job could give them a bias against one side
  • A potential juror is an advocate for or against the death penalty
  • A potential juror has previously been involved in a similar case

There may be personal and open-ended questions asked so that the judge and attorneys can attempt to find any reason potential jurors would not deal with the issues of the case fairly.

Relevant Laws and Court Cases

Sixth Amendment of U.S. Constitution: The United States Constitution provides that a defendant has a right to "an impartial jury."

Presley v. Georgia, 558 U.S. 209 (2010): The Supreme Court held that the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated when the public was excluded from the voir dire of prospective jurors by the trial court.

Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986): The Supreme Court held that a prosecutor in a criminal case could not use a peremptory challenge based solely on race because it was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Company, 500 U.S. 614 (1991): The Supreme Court held that peremptory challenges may not be used to exclude jurors on the basis of race in civil trials (extending Batson v. Kentucky to civil trials).

J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U.S. 127 (1994): The Supreme Court held that a prosecutor in a criminal case could not use a peremptory challenge based solely on sex because it was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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