What does the phrase mean? The literal translation for the phrase from French to English is “to speak truth.” Dictionary.com defines the phrase as “…noun, Law. 1) an oath administered to a proposed witness or juror by which he or she is sworn to speak the truth in an examination to ascertain his or her competence. 2) the examination itself.” Voire dire is the process that lawyers take, both the defense and prosecution, to determine who is going to be the most fair, honest, and beneficial jurors to the case each lawyer is trying to plead.
What Is It?
Voir dire is one of the most important parts of a trial, however, there is very little taught about the topic in law school. Many law school graduates leave with the notion that either they are good at voir dire or they are not and there is nothing that they can do about it. This belief is completely false! Michael Jordan did not become one of the greatest basketball players of all time in a day and neither will lawyers who are trying to become masters at voir dire. Voir dire can be learned by reading about it and observing other attorneys who have years of experience under their belts.
Four Goals of Voir Dire
As a defense attorney, you should have four (4) goals in mind while going through voir dire and picking a jury. The four (4) goals are as followed:
- Personalize your client
- Establish rapport with the jury
- Pick an impartial group of people to hear your client’s case
- Educate the jurors about your theory of the case
Those goals sound great and wonderful, but what do they mean?
Personalizing Your Client
To personalize your client means that the jury can relate to and/or recognize your client as the individual that he or she is. You ask the jury if they know him or her, give them a little background, such as how many kids he or she has, where he or she works, how long he or she has been working there, and other statements and questions along those lines so the potential jurors recognize your client as a person and not “the defendant in a DUI case” or whatever the charge(s) may be.
First off, what is “rapport”? Rapport means “relation; connection”. This is important to establish with potential jurors and, more importantly, it is important for potential jurors to trust you and believe what you are telling them is true. A lot of lawyers make the mistake of trying to hard to establish that connection and, on the flip-side of that, some make the mistake of not trying hard enough. Finding a happy-medium between the two mistakes is where a defense attorney wants to find his or her self. It is important to keep in mind that the case is not about you, which can get lost in all the talking that the defense attorney and the prosecutor will be doing with witnesses, but it is about the innocence of your client. It is important to personalize yourself, but do so briefly and get back to the matter at hand, which is your client and why both of you are there that day.
Another great way to make a connection with the potential jurors is when you ask them a question, genuinely listen to their answers. Start off with a somewhat broad question where the response can be answered by raising your hand if yes, do not raise your hand if no and for those potential jurors who did raise their hands, pick one or two, if not all of them, and ask them to explain or go into greater detail. Let them tell you their stories to try and get to know them. Remember, voir dire is not the actual selection of the jury, but it will help you make a decision of who to strike, who not to strike, who is going to be fair, and who will be biased when it comes to the deliberation of the case.
Pick an Impartial Jury to Hear Your Client’s Case
As previously stated, voir dire is not the actual picking of the jury. It is more like back when you could pick a team to play football or basketball and the ones who you did not want on your team or the other team could not play. Chances are you will not get to keep everyone that you like due to the fact the prosecutor gets to strike people from the panel of potential jurors as well. So how do you know whom to pick for “your team”? LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN!! It is crucial to ask open-ended questions, sit back, and let the jurors talk. The more they talk, the better feel you get for each one individually. Listen to their answers and even if it is not an answer that you wanted to hear, thank them for their response. People who give answers that will hurt your client more than help are an obvious strike from the jury selection.
There will be some potential jurors who do not raise their hands often and do not have a lot to say. When this instance occurs, ask them direct questions about some of the other jurors responses. If they were not paying attention while the other jurors were speaking, reiterate it for them, and ask what their opinion about it is. This does two (2) things: 1) it gives the quiet jurors a chance to speak and express their opinions so you get a better feel for them and 2) it lets the other jurors know that you are paying attention and listening to what they have to say so it in turn helps creates that “bond” that is necessary between you and them.
Educate the Jurros About Your Theory of the Case
Many lawyers make the mistake of not presenting their theory of the case until their opening statement of trial. This can be detrimental during voir dire and jury selection. It is vitally important that you start laying the foundation of your case during voir dire so that you can get a better understanding of where each juror stands on the matter at hand. To accomplish this, you will need to ask some closed ended questions. However, after asking a closed ended question, follow it up with a general question, and then with an open-ended question. Be cautious not to educate too much. Most lawyers will start educating the potential jurors too much and stop listening to the potential jurors responses. Another mistake that some lawyers make is arguing with the potential jurors. Never, never, NEVER do this!! By arguing with a potential juror or shutting him or her down due to a response that you did not agree with or like will make other jurors hesitant about being open and honest with you during the rest of your questioning.
What have we learned here today? We have learned how to correctly pronounce “voir dire”, what the literal translation is and where it originated, what the phrase means in American law societies, and what the purposes of it is. Sam Sliger at McDonald & Cody has taught himself how to be a master at voir dire. With the same hard work and dedication that he puts into his clients and their cases, he has put into teaching himself the proper ways and techniques of voir dire. If Sam Sliger is your attorney and your case goes to trial, rest assured that your case is in the best and most hard working hands that it could be.