Do Jurors Get “Poisoned” During Voir Dire?

Attorneys are often worried about asking questions in voir dire that elicit responses that are harmful to your side of the case.  For example, I hear plaintiffs attorneys worry about asking questions regarding tort reform because they are afraid that jurors will start talking about costs of insurance rising and how lawsuits are chasing doctors out of town.  The fear is that these comments will taint the neutral or good jurors.

My suggestion is not to worry about poisoning jurors on the panel.  Your role in voir dire is to elicit information and you certainly want to hear the bad comments so you can dismiss bad jurors.  Jurors who are favorable to you will not change their opinions simply because a stranger sitting next to them spouts off opposing viewpoints.  If a person holds a fairly well ingrained opinion, they have formed that opinion based on their life experiences.  That opinion has already been challenged by media, friends, and family.  An hour-long voir dire (if you’re lucky to even get the much time) will not change their opinions.  If a juror is neutral on a matter or has not formed any deeply rooted opinions on the topic, they may be swayed by what other jurors say but not to the point of danger to you.  Their opinions will not have been ingrained and they can be easily swayed back to your side during trial.

The most important things to remember during voir dire are:

1. You should listen much more than you talk.  This is a time for you to gather information, not feed jurors facts about your case or try to start convincing them.

2. You need to appear as non-lawyerly as possible.  Jurors hate attorneys and this is your first impression.  Do not under any circumstances argue with a juror about their opinion or try to change it.  You will alienate yourself from the rest of the panel, including your good jurors.

3. Bring out those bad facts and get jurors to commit to their opinions solidly if they are bases for cause challenges.  That will give you a much better chance at removing more of the bad jurors and ending up with neutral or favorable jurors who will then appreciate your openness to different attitudes and trust you more as you begin to present your case.

5 Comments

Filed under Misc, Voir Dire

5 responses to “Do Jurors Get “Poisoned” During Voir Dire?

  1. Anonymous

    Counselor, you no more than 30 minutes to do jury selection of a panel of 62 people, that includes getting the jury to like you, or feel comfortable with you, know your client, know the law at issue, do general and specific questions, and explore every question about possible defensive issues(possible legal malpractice if you do not) if your handling a criminal case, and notify the court of possible challenges for cause, now proceed…this is the hardest part of trials for me.

    • It’s not just hard, it is impossible. You have to do the best you can and prioritize. If at all possible, get a supplemental jury questionnaire to give you a head start.

  2. I am a trial consultant. Happened to one of my clients, years ago. what we decided to do is ask only this question: this case involves a Roman candle and an eye injury.. what are your experiences, thoughts or feelings about that.
    People could not wait to repond to that question and other comments made by other members of the venire. we covered alot of ground by just listening.

  3. Is a lawyer allowed to do this?

    “I told one juror earlier today, ‘Either way, Nick’s coming out of that prison in a body bag,'” and it’s a question of whether it will be at the end of his natural life or by lethal injection, one of Horner’s lawyers, David DeFazio, said during jury selection in January.

    • I always put disclaimers on my work that I am not offering legal advice. It is up to the attorneys to decide whether a tactical suggestion is legal or not. My job is in determining if a strategy is helpful or not so I can’t answer your question. If I knew more about the case, I could tell you if I thought asking the question was a good or bad move but the legalities are beyond my expertise.

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