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What is 'voir dire'?

Jury Selection

Iloilo Jones (Executive Director of Fully Informed Jury Association) gives expert video advice on: What is 'voir dire'?; What kind of questions will I be asked as a juror?; Why do I have to answer personal questions before I'm chosen for jury duty? and more...

What is 'voir dire'?

Voir dire means to speak the truth. And they want you to answer truthfully when they ask you these questions. And they'll ask you questions, you won't know this at the time, but let's say it's a marijuana case. They're going to say, "Have any of your friends ever been arrested, or anybody in your family ever been arrested, for marijuana possession?" And you may say no, because that's the truth. And then they'll say, "Do you feel that marijuana laws in this country are fair?" And if you say, "I think they're really stupid and I don't think the government has any business telling people what they can do with their own bodies," they're going to dismiss you immediately. The prosecutor is going to dismiss you. He'll be very nice, he'll say, "Thank you for coming, you're dismissed." Or the judge may even say, "Thank you for coming, you're dismissed." If you say, "Well, I know we have marijuana laws, I guess I've never really thought about it," they'll say, "Okay, maybe she's our girl, because she's really not prejudiced." If, on the other hand, you say, "Anybody who's caught with marijuana should immediately be put in jail for five years," the defence attorney or the judge or both again will say, "Thank you very much for showing up. You're dismissed." They don't want you to come in with a lot of preconceived notions about a case that you may be sitting in judgment about.

Why do I have to answer personal questions before I'm chosen for jury duty?

Often when your called for jury duty there going to ask you a lot of personal questions that you might not want to answer. Especially in front of other people who you do, or do not know. And actually sometimes you can ask to answer those in front of the Judge. You can write a note and say I would like to answer those in chambers with the Judge and the attorneys not in. But they ask you personal questions for a reason. He may have hit someone we don't know. So they want to make sure that you have no prejudices, and they will ask you a variety questions obviously depending on the kind of case it is to see if they think you can be a fair juror.

What are 'peremptory challenges'?

A peremptory challenge means that they don't have to give any reason. They don't even have to ask you any questions. They can just look at you as say, "Thank you for coming. You're dismissed." And they may do that because you look impatient, angry, because they know by looking at you, you're the wrong age, the wrong color, and the wrong sex. That you don't fit the profile of jurors they want. And they can't be called on that. The other person doesn't get a chance to ask you questions. You're just dismissed.

Are there restrictions on peremptory challenges?

There are some restrictions on peremptory challenges. First of all you only get a certain number of them and if a pattern emerges, let us say for instance there is a Native American kid on trial and from a community that is say 30% Native Americans and the prosecutor is dismissing every Native American who is in the jury pool the judge may actually say, "Wow, we need to go the chamber and talk about this".

What could happen if I lie during jury selection?

While you're talking during this period of voir dire, when they're asking you all the questions to decide whether or not you're going to be on the jury or whether they're going to let you go home or send you home and you're not going to get an opportunity for this experience, you should always tell the truth. If you're uncomfortable, you can always ask to go answer these questions in the judge's chamber, but you should never lie. If you lie during that process and you get seated on the jury, and for some reason they think that you have come into this case, let's say you were convicted of a DUI for instance, and there's a DUI case and they asked if you were ever convicted of a DUI and you said no, that's a lie, Because you may have a prejudice in that case, because of your own experience, that you're going to carry into the jury deliberation room. So don't lie during the process, if you're embarrassed, ask to speak to the judge and the attorneys in chambers, but do not lie.

Do I have to answer questions about my religion during jury selection?

If you are called in for jury selection and there is a case that has a religious component, let's say that somebody belonged to a church that, for instance, did not allow its children to receive any medical treatment, and they are charged with neglect. They may ask you if you have ever heard of that particular religion, if anybody in your family belongs to that religion, if you belong to that religion, and I think that those would be valid questions because they probably would prefer not to have people who either thought the religion was cuckoo, or people who were devout members of that religion; either one, from the different sides of the people involved in the trial.

Can a potential juror refuse to answer questions?

This is an interesting problem. There have been successful challenges by people from the jury pool where they have said, "You have no right to invade my privacy in that way, and I do not have to answer these questions to be qualified to serve on the jury." "It's none of your business whether or not I have ever been divorced" or, "It's none of your business whether I have ever had a child out of wedlock." or, "Its none of your business if my spouse ever hit me." And, in most instances, jurors have been successful in those arguments, but I would encourage you, if your asked questions that you think are too personal, or that you think are embarrassing, that you ask the judge if you can answer the question in chambers, just because it makes it a lot easier for the whole process to go along. But, I think that you have a right. as a person, to a private life, and if you really feel that these questions are an invasion of your privacy, you should say that I feel these questions are an invasion of my privacy, I am not comfortable answering them, and they will probably send you home, but at least, you have protected your own human right to your privacy, and you are to be commended for that.

Will I get paid for serving on a jury?

When you are called in to serve on jury duty, they usually send you on the summons, there will be a little note on there that will say, "We will reimburse you up to $7.50 for parking. You may get $8.35 for lunch expenses if you are held over during lunch. And you will receive, you fill out the attached form or attached sheet and leave it with the bailiff or the clerk of the court and we will send you these expenses plus your payment of $15 or $25 a day." It's usually not very much, unfortunately. I hope you have a good employer who is going to pay for your day or two off.

Do companies have to pay their employees during jury duty?

There are some laws in this country about jurors getting paid when they're called for jury duty. We did a survey a few years ago and we found that most employers pay an average of about seventy-five percent of the standard rate of pay to their employees if they're out for several days. If they're out for a couple of days they usually pay them in full. There are only a couple of states that have the same laws governing payments to jurors as they have governing payments to people called, let's say, to go to National Guard or something like that. Their employers can't penalize them for that, but in most instances if you're going to serve on a jury your employer is going to pay you anyway, but in most states they're not required to, but often the employers will call us and we will say, "Yes, you should pay them even if it isn't the law in your state" and they do.

What are pre-trial juror investigations?

Sometimes when you are called into a jury pool, you will get with a summons not just your form for reimbursement of expenses, but you may get a questionnaire that can go on for several pages with all kind of questions about your educational level, how long you've been married, if you've ever been married, whether or not you've ever been in the armed forces, if you've ever been convicted for a variety of things. This is a pre-trial investigation of jurors and these are often handed over to jury experts who try to determine the profile of everybody in the jury pool to help them select jurors they think would be better for one side of the case or the other side of the case, depending upon who the juror consultant is. When you're called for jury duty and you get a questionnaire that you have to fill out, that is supposed to be information that is confidential. It should not go to the press or the public. It can go to the attorneys involved in the case and it can go to the judge. The Clerk of Courts may see that, but that information should not be made public. It may be used to investigate you, if there's concern that it's a special kind of case, but never in any instance should even your name be made public. And sometimes jurors are given numbers; their name is never disclosed. Usually it's not the kind of case where you're worried about them knowing your name. But juror privacy, by and large, is always protected, even though you may be investigated, none of that information is going to be made public.

What if I end up serving on a grand jury?

Sometimes instead of being called to serve on a regular petit jury in a criminal case you may be called to serve on a grand jury which has a different function. There'll be more people on the grand jury, for one thing, and you're called in to look at evidence and look at allegations that are going to be presented by a prosecuting attorney or state's attorney general to decide whether or not there is an adequate reason to believe, if there's a reasonable evidence and reasonable suspicion that someone may have committed a crime, and should therefore go to trial. So you're not judging guilt or innocence, you're just saying, "This looks like a valid case".