Interesting Article on What Jurors Think About Voir Dire Questions

Since we just released our Guerrilla Guide to Picking a Jury: Jury Selection and Voir Dire for Non-Lawyers (available here as an instantly downloadable eBook and here for the Kindle) we thought the following article would be interesting. We found it at the OJRU Blawg and, while interesting, it is not the be all and end all for reasons we'll explain at the end of the post:

 

What do jurors think of attorney voir dire questions?

"Jurors sometimes withhold information during voir dire. In 1994, a prospective juror refused to answer several items on her juror questionnaire, maintaining that questions about her income, religion, television and reading habits, political affiliations, and health were "very private" and irrelevant. She was cited for contempt, which a federal magistrate judge later overturned (Brandberg v. Lucas,, 891 F. Supp., 552 (E.D. Tex., 1995)).

Rose (2001) investigated questions potential jurors are asked in voir dire that they feel are either unnecessary or too private. Rose interviewed over 200 former potential jurors who had completed jury service in 13 different criminal trials involving homicide, felonious assault, robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony drug offenses, breaking and entering/possession of stolen goods, and obtaining property by false pretenses.

Overall, 53% of potential jurors felt a question asked in voir dire made them uncomfortable, seemed unnecessary or was too private:

  • 43% said that they were asked voir dire questions that seemed irrelevant or unnecessary. Jurors who heard a full trial and deliberated were less likely to identify a question as unnecessary (30%) than were potential jurors who did not sit on the case (49%).
  • 27% said that they were asked voir dire questions that seemed "too private." Men and women did not differ in their discomfort with voir dire questions, nor did Black and White jurors. Potential jurors who reported discomfort did not report feeling greatly offended by the questions.

 

One-fourth of potential jurors were uncomfortable with questions about involvement with the courts or crime (e.g., crime/court experience in one's family, juror has been a crime victim, juror has been charged with an offense, etc.). These questions were perceived as moderately offensive, most often because they were painful or embarrassing to answer for some jurors.

One-fourth of potential jurors found unnecessary and/or an invasion of their privacy questions about family and demographics (e.g., parental status, spouse's occupation or place of employment, children's occupation or place of employment, juror's occupation or place of employment, general location where juror resides, marital status). Potential jurors who were uncomfortable with these questions most often cited safety as their rationale. More frequently, jurors felt that these questions stereotyped them.

Potential jurors frequently objected to questions about interests and associations as irrelevant and intrusive: 20% objected to questions about religious affiliation, 10% objected to questions about voluntary organizations, 12% objected to questions about hobbies, and 8% disliked having to say whether they owned guns. Jurors felt these questions invited stereotyping and unfounded assumptions about them.

In sum, while potential jurors frequently express distaste for the more routine questions asked in voir dire, far more potential jurors cite these questions as being unnecessary rather than intrusive, with the offense not usually perceived as great.

Source Rose, M. R. (2001). Expectations of privacy? Jurors' views of voir dire questions. Judicature, 85(1),, pp. 10-43."

Here is the key to this info, while the juror may not see the need for the information, or may see the question as too invasive, realistically it doesn't matter how they see it. What is important is that you get the information necessary to make your strikes. Our eBook mentioned earlier will reveal techniques used to make the questions less objectionable and, in addition, allow you to identify the jurors that may be so offended by teh questions that they shouldn't be on the jury in the first place. 

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