The right to trial by jury - the spinal cord of democracy,
the palladium of free government, and the only guarantee to appear
in both the body of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"The guarantees of jury trial in the Federal and State Constitutions reflect a profound
judgment about the way in which law should be enforced and justice administered.
A right to jury trial is granted to criminal defendants in order to prevent oppression
by the Government. Those who wrote our constitutions knew from history and
experience that it was necessary to protect against unfounded criminal charges
brought to eliminate enemies and against judges too responsive to the voice
of higher authority. The framers of the constitutions strove to create an
independent judiciary, but insisted upon further protection against
arbitrary action. Providing an accused with the right to be tried by a jury
of his peers gave him an inestimable safeguard against the corrupt or
overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge."
United States Supreme Court Justice Byron White
Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968)
The trial lawyer - a courtroom panhandler who
depends on the kindness of strangers, i.e., jurors, for support.
The prosecutor wants a jury like a wheel with twelve spokes
connected by a common rim. The defender desires a jury
of spokes unconnected by a common rim.
The first is a wheel that will roll into a unanimous verdict.
The second is not a wheel. It's just a collection of spokes.
It won't move.
Take it as a given that everyone outside of playpens
and judge's chambers has a prejudiced point of view.
You can't remove prejudice, but you may be able to spot it in voir dire.
"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man,
by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."
Thomas Jefferson (1)
We don't see things as they are.
We see them as we are.
In no other body of such social significance do we settle for such haphazard
fleeting membership with no requirement of experience.
INTRODUCTION TO DESELECTING AND SELECTING A JURY
[For more in-depth information and suggestions about the process of excluding and selecting people
(1) as jurors during voir dire, read the CCJA monograph, Jury Deselection in Criminal Cases.]
The only time your jurors can give you their voices is during the jury voir dire (1), (2), (3). It's a vital
stage of the process. Let's discuss the legitimate purposes of the jury selection and deselection
process, otherwise known as jury voir dire ("voir" and "dire" being, respectively, French verbs for "to
see" and "to say," which taken together in the Norman French meant "to speak the truth, " though in
France today if you wished to say "to tell the truth" you would say "a vrai dire.") The focus of our
discussion will be on states, like Texas, where the lawyers are allowed to conduct the questioning of
the prospective jurors, or, at least, participate significantly in the vetting process.
What I have to say on this web page will not necessarily apply in some jurisdictions, e.g., Arizona,
DC, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, and
Utah, where there is little or no lawyer conducted voir dire questioning (1 - a judge, formerly a
prosecutor, disparages lawyer questioning during voir dire), (2 - a defender doesn't like judge
conducted voir dire), and in federal court where, under Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure, the trial judge can, and usually does, conduct the jury voir dire, i.e., "(1)The court may
examine prospective jurors or may permit the attorneys for the parties to do so." At the trial judge's
discretion, the lawyers (1) in some federal prosecutions are also allowed to ask a few questions, i.e.,
"If the court examines the jurors, it must permit the attorneys for the parties to: (A) ask further
questions that the court considers proper;or (B) submit further questions that the court may ask if it
considers them proper." (1)(2) See also Gonzales v. United States, 553 U.S. 242 (2008). In a typical
felony case, you'll be lucky to get 10 or 20 minutes of personal interaction with the jurors in federal
court. There are exceptions, e.g., a high publicity death penalty case such as the Terry
Nichols Oklahoma City Bombing (1 - featuring world class defender Michael Tigar) and
the Unabomber case (1 - featuring defender Judy Clarke, a lawyer who combines the dual traits of
being an exceptional advocate and a nice person) involved individual voir dire with both sides being
allowed to ask questions, after the judge completed his inquiries, to supplement the judge's
examination of the venire or, in the alternative, the lawyers will be allowed to submit questions (1 -
note the federal prosecutor's efforts to limit defense questions), (2 - a selection of defense requests)
to the judge, which the judge may or may not ask as an addendum to the judge's usual colloquy and
spiel. Thus, for most practical purposes, traditional attorney voir dire is moribund in United States
District Courts. Note also that one of the Supremes, Justice Breyer, is openly disenchanted with
the peremptory challenge system. Ex-Justice Souter felt similarly. See Breyer's concurring opinion
in Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333 (2006) and Souter's opinion in Miller-El v. Dretke, 544 U.S. 231
(2005). [Note: A 2007 84- page study of jury practices informs us that voir dire is split rather evenly
between the court and counsel in these states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois,
Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma,
Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia. In these states voir dire is conducted primarily by
counsel: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana,
Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Texas (my home state), Vermont, Washington, Wyoming.]
The number of peremptory challenges differs from one jurisdiction to another; however, to my
knowledge, no jurisdiction has totally done away with peremptory challenges. There is no
constitutional right to peremptories. See Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148 (2009) holding that just as
state law controls the existence and exercise of peremptory challenges, so state law determines the
consequences of an erroneous denial of such a challenge. In federal court and the ten jurisdictions
mentioned, your non-testimonial quest for the hearts and minds of jurors is more likely to begin
during opening statement. A Prediction: In the next score of years, as the lawyer's role in voir dire in
almost every jurisdiction is supplanted by the trial judge, the advocate's ability to make an
effective opening statement will become a much more vital and important trial skill than conducting a
voir dire examination during jury selection. For an insight into the process for summoning jurors in
federal court, take a look at the federal Jury Selection and Service Act.
THE JURY SYSTEM IN UNIQUE
The American jury system (1) is unique. John Adams described it as "the heart and lungs of liberty."
Our legal process entrusts the most difficult disputes to a group of people who are strangers to one
another and strangers to the parties to the lawsuit. We submit crucial questions involving property,
liberty and life itself to a random slice of the community's population. We call that group a "jury."
We Americans seem enamored with the idea of right to trial by jury. We are fond of saying, "It's the
best system in the world." It doesn't bother us that the jurors, through no fault of their own, are cast
in a role akin to "child emperors," enjoying much more power than their life experiences have trained
them to exercise. The anomaly is that when called to serve as a citizen juror, many of us do what we
can to duck out of the job.
TO LEARN ABOUT HOW TO SELECT/DESELECT A JURY, WATCH IT BEING
Techniques are mastered, in part, through imitation. "Monkey-see, monkey-do" learning requires
observation and practice. You certainly can't learn how to conduct an effective jury voir dire simply
by reading about it or by attending a CLE course on "How to Pick a Jury" or "The Ultimate Voir Dire."
But talking about jury "selection" (trying to wind up with favorably inclined people) and "deselection"
(getting rid of those who are leaning against you from the start) and watching it being done are good
starting points. Whether you are a 3L law student or a licensed practitioner, find time to slip into
courtrooms and observe experienced litigators questioning jurors. I've often thought that it would be
wonderful if TruTV were able to broadcast the jury selection process. For privacy reasons, with the
exception of Florida where faces of prospective jurors are not shown, this is the one area of the trial
that is almost never televised. See the video clips from the Casey Anthony case in the sidebar.
Those who practice in metropolitan areas or attend urban law schools will always have the
opportunity to watch voir dire questioning being done by veteran trial lawyers. Go and watch. You
can learn a lot about how jury voir dire works. Don't hesitate to adopt the helpful techniques of
THREE SECRETS THAT WILL HELP YOU DO A BETTER JOB IN VOIR DIRE
There are three quotations that should come to mind when you to understand your purposes in the
jury voir dire process.
(1) The first quote I'd like for you to remember is:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
First and most important, you are trying to understand who the prospective jurors are as individuals.
This is a difficult task because nothing is more uncertain or unpredictable than the feelings of a
group of total strangers. Yet, you must make the effort. Your secondary objective is to have the
jurors understand you and your theory of the case. Your effectiveness as a trial advocate is not so
much about what you do, but what the jurors do because of the power of your influence in the
courtroom. It's a two part equation - understanding and being understood. To understand what
makes people tick requires intuition and knowledge of human nature. Some of us are more intuitive
than others. Some of us study human behavior more than others. The bottom line is - if you are
going to be a good jury-picker, become a student of human nature and group behavior. For example,
human nature moves many jurors to judge others more harshly than they would judge themselves.
Don't we love justice in the affairs of others and mercy in our own? Do we search others for their
vices and ourselves for virtues? Do we humans have a natural inclination to observe and reprove the
faults of others? Many of us are unwilling to admit that our personal plight and/or foibles are partially
our own fault, but, in judging others, we tend to place the entire fault on their shoulders. In other
words, some prospective jurors view their own shortcomings as being caused by external reasons,
i.e., the hard cruel world. Yet, the same jurors who blame others for their problems do the reverse
when they judge others. i.e., they tend to attribute externally caused shortcomings to internal
weakness. One way of dealing with such natural human tendencies is to make them known. For
example, in a case involving the defense of mistake of fact, a defender might ask the prospective
jurors whether they acknowledge the tendency among some people to "judge others more harshly
than they judge themselves."
(2) The next quote that bears some thought is:
You can't sell what you wouldn't buy.
You can only lead your jurors where you yourself are prepared to go. You must learn how to believe
in your case long before voir dire begins. Your confidence in the product you are selling will find its
way into your courtroom presentation.
(3) The final quote is:
While the lawyers are picking the jury,
the jurors are picking a lawyer.
From the minute they lay eyes on you, the jurors are grading your papers, making assessments of
your candor, integrity, and competence. In the courtroom, think of yourself as a performer (not an
actor) who is always on stage. How do you want the jury to perceive you? Act accordingly from the
get-go and in a consistent manner.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR PROSPECTIVE JURORS - GET THEM TALKING
When you fist face your jury panel, it's like being presented with a sack full of knots that you will have
to untie. You have a brief period to examine each knot in the bag, and then you get to discard a set
number of them. Understanding jurors is like understanding knots. The goal if to keep the ones you
can untie and get rid of the one's you can't. But exactly how do you go about understanding a group
of thirty or forty strangers in a brief period? First, you've got to get them to talk (1), (2 - analogizing
the process with a town meeting), (3) - not an easy thing to do in a society where, on the prospective
jurors lists of things they look forward to, speaking in public is right above ringworm. Yet, you've got
to get their lips moving with conversation. If you want to find out how a person thinks, you have got
to let that person do the talking. Getting a conversation going requires you to ask open-ended
questions that invite narrative responses, the kind of questions you ask on direct when you let your
witness tell his own story. In jury voir dire, unlike direct examination, you don't know what answers
the juror will give to your open-ended questions. You'll prompt an answer that reveals the
prospective juror's thinking if you ask those "what, why, how, when, where, and who" questions. You
won't always what you want to hear, but it's what you need to know.
Courts in general, and the voir dire process in particular, are intimidating to most jurors. It's natural
for most of us not to want to be made to talk about ourselves in front of strangers. Some of us just
don't feel comfortable opening up to people (other than hair dressers) we don't know well. In jury voir
dire you may be facing a group that, given the choice, would rather be talked to than be required to
talk. You will have to figure out how you want to deal with the natural fear and resentment that many
venirepersons have of being forced to speak in public. Of course, once you coax the prospective
jurors to talk, you must be listening to their answers and watching them. It's been said that great trial
lawyers listen to jurors with their eyes. I suggest to you that the art of jury picking is more in the
listening and observing than in the talking. A good rule of thumb might be to let the prospective
jurors talk 75% of the time, leaving you with the remaining 25%. [Aside - re your relationship with
jurors: Here's another good rule of thumb: To appear too clever is dumb.]
Every person is an individual, but there is a lot to be learned just by understanding the general
demographic makeup of our population. What do we mean by cross-section of the population.? If
you don't know much about the population of this country, learn. The general information is out there
for the reading (1), (2), (3). You can use the Internet to research people and the zip codes in which
they live.(1-SNS) (2). Here's an example, the demographics of the OJ jury.
DESELECTION - IDENTIFY THE ONES WHO ARE LEANING AGAINST YOU
Your manner should be geared to getting the prospective jurors to relax, provide candid answers,
and be open to communication. Jurors exercise an unconscious choice in being influenced. Your
approach to the voir dire is to unfreeze their real attitudes and opinions so that you can gain an
insight. If you can do this, you will be better able to decide the ones who are most likely not to look
at things your way. Yes I mean what I just said. Your first task is to identify the folks who are most
likely to vote your opponent's way. These are the people you want to get rid of. [The exception is the
juror who can't lead and won't follow. This is a "wildcard hanger" and one the defense typically
wants.] Most of us think of voir dire as the jury selection process. It is in part a selection process, but
more importantly it is a "deselection" process. You are looking for "them that's agin' you."
Attitudes and predispositions drive behavior. All other things being equal, the tree usually falls the
way it leans. And you are not going to have sufficient time or opportunity to change the basic
attitudes and predispositions your prospective jurors bring to the courtroom. So in voir dire you are
trying to identify the folks who belief system predisposes them to resist your theory of the case.
These are the ones you want to strike.
What about the ones who seem amenable to your case. Make your opponent find out, on her own,
those that are leaning your way from the start. If you display, by your questions, the people who are
most likely to see things your way, your opponent will strike them. Since you are trying to identify the
ones who honestly are not in your corner, always ask the questions that will identify those you want
to banish or purge from the panel before you start asking questions that might embarrass or entice
the prospective juror into hiding or concealing the prejudice or bias that you want to reveal.
GETTING THE PROSPECTIVE JURORS TO UNDERSTAND YOU - TALKING TO
After you get the prospective jurors talking, if you want them to understand you, you've got to talk to
them. You are trying to provide information to the people who will wind up on your jury. I recall
hearing a colleague say: "During trial, jurors will welcome that which they are ready and willing to
cope with. The rest they either ignore or pronounce to be wrong or improbable." If the prospective
juror understands your legal position, you can condition the juror to be receptive to your theory of the
case. Get rid of those that don't grasp it. A good way to weave your theory of the case into the
process is to discuss "Why we are here." Put your theory in front of the panel, and let them talk
about it. Go easy on trying to educate the jurors by lecturing them. We each have a face that we put
forward to the world. How you present yourself is a personal choice but I like this as a good choice
for relating to your jury: Aim and shoot for a manner that's semi-formal and deferential and at the
same time cordial, while reflecting an air of dignified authority.
Of all the things you wear, your expression is most important. A pleasant expression
value to your case. For most of us, a smile at the appropriate time,
is the least expensive way of improving the looks of our face.
The jurors start grading your papers from the moment they set eyes upon you and figure out who
you are. You want to look good! Use voir dire to begin earning your juror's respect and trust, so they
will credit and believe what you say later on in the case. It's even better if they like you. Don't
visualize voir dire as a trick. To be convincing in what you do and say, rapport with your jurors is
essential. And voir dire is the place to start developing it. Be a model or what you want the jurors to
be in their deliberations, e.g., listen to others, respect other people's opinions, discuss, let everyone
talk, etc. You must be honest to get honest information. The influence you will have on the jurors is
measured by the opinion the jurors have of your integrity.
Of course, looking good does not mean that you force your personality upon the prospective jurors.
You can look good by surrendering some power. Consider old Ben Franklin's advice in his essay
"On Conversation" about how to win friends and influence people: "Would you win the hearts of
others, you must not seem to vie with them, but to admire them. Give them every opportunity of
displaying their own qualifications, and when you have indulged their vanity, they will praise you in
turn and prefer you above others. Such is the vanity of mankind that minding what others say is a
much surer way of pleasing them than talking well ourselves."
The old bromide says that "while the lawyers are picking a jury, the jurors are picking a lawyer."
There's a stalactite of truth to that old saying. The prospective jurors are sizing you up at the same
time you are deciding who of them you will strike. Part of your presence is the way you look, e.g.,
your dress, your face, your grooming, your smile. Part of it is the way you sound, e.g., your voice,
your laugh, your word choices. Other parts of your presence are your walk, your stance, your
posture, and the air of confidence, or lack of it, that you exude. What do you want the prospective
jurors to feel when they watch you and listen to you? Work on that image. Here's a rule of thumb:
The shorter the trial, the more influence your superficial look will have on your persuasive impact
with the jury. The saying, "You are what you wear" has more meaning in a short half-day
misdemeanor trial than it does in a three week marathon. In the latter situation the jurors have much
more time to evaluate you as a whole person; accordingly, the way you dress will have less
I once heard a defense lawyer describe a jury as "a group of people persuaded by a lawyer they
don't know to acquit a defendant they wouldn't trust to park their cars." This is not a winning
dynamic. You can change it only by creating a courtroom image of trustworthiness and credibility for
yourself and your client.
Voir dire is the place for first verbal impressions. For this reason, your opening voir dire is crucial.
Obviously you want to be well dressed. You want to be gracious, courteous, polite, and well
mannered. Beyond that, you have to sell yourself in very subtle ways. In the eyes of the prospective
juror, you can't afford to appear arrogant, cynical, cold-blooded, tricky, slippery, cunning, etc. How do
you sell yourself with verbal impressions? One way is to be helpful without fawning or currying favor.
Ingratiate yourself to the prospective jurors by being solicitous of their comfort. Think about what it is
that bugs jurors. My own experiences as a prospective juror suggest the following: First, they get
treated like stockyard cattle being herded from one holding pen to another. Second, they aren't told
the full story of what is happening around them. Third, they are captive strangers in a foreign
atmosphere. So, how do you play the juror's predicament to your advantage? Use your knowledge of
the court's procedure to make them more comfortable in the confinement of the court and their jury
rooms. Without fawning or playing the toady, do something to assuage the jurors' anxiety and
elevate yourself to the role of host. Give them an insider's view. For example, tell them how many
strikes each side has. Introduce the court personnel. Give them useful information that will make
their lives as jurors more comfortable. For example, tell the jurors how the court works insofar as
breaks, phone access, eating, smoking, parking, etc. Why? Because, if you assuage their nerves
and make them feel a bit more comfortable in their confinement, they will like you.
Do what you can to make the jurors feel important. Elevate their sense of responsibility to their "high
office as judges without robes." Teach them a bit about the important rules of court, e.g., the burden
of proof, the presumption of innocence, and the meaning of reasonable doubt. You have to turn the
lights on for them. Most people called as jurors have not had experience in enforcing the law or
protecting someone's constitutional liberties and freedoms. [Defenders, don't talk about your client's
"rights." It's a popular idea that accused criminals have too many "rights." Instead, call them
"fundamental principles of liberty."] Do a little teaching about fundamental principles of liberty. Boost
their sense of civic pride.
GETTING READY FOR JURY SELECTION
Stay abreast of communication theory. You are a professional persuader. Your job as an
advocate is to help a group of people believe in the possibility or probability that something did or
didn't happen in a particular way. Part of your job is to know what persuades people, what influences
their belief system, and what motivates them to act on formed belief. How do you develop
understanding? How do you sort out the different strokes it takes for different folks? Look in yourself
and your experiences. Look to your relationships with fellow beings and the earth. Be a student of
human nature. Learn how people think by associating with people. Be sociable. Experience life.
Have friends. Make a conscious effort to learn as much as you can about people and what moves
them. For example, do men and women differ in their communication style, approaches to problem
solving, and ways of relating to others? Are men still shaped by cultural expectations to be in control,
to be strong, and to be independent? Faced with the same circumstances, will a woman be more
comfortable expressing sadness, where a man may be more comfortable expressing anger? I don't
pretend to have answers to such questions, but the point is that trial lawyers have to think about how
different people react to facts? When you plan ahead, you'll be trying to figure out how jurors will
respond and react. What are the moral/ethical issues? What motivates action? There is a lot of
useful information about communication theory. Most of the literature comes from behavioral
scientists who study what makes people tick. There is also some helpful literature in the field of
advertising. Go to your local library some Saturday, and read this stuff. Throughout your legal life,
always ask, "What can I do, as a paid persuader of jurors, to achieve better understanding and
Know the way the court handles voir dire. For example, how much of a pep talk does the trial
judge give the panel of prospective jurors; what does s/he say? Is the judge receptive to pre-advising
the jury concerning basics such as the burden of proof, the presumption of innocence, circumstantial
evidence, etc.? Is the judge receptive to jury questionnaires? Does the judge take challenges for
cause at the end of the voir dire or during it? The method of exercising peremptory challenges or
striking jurors peremptorily without having to supply a reason varies among the jurisdictions. There
are two ways to handle peremptory strikes: (1) simultaneous strikes or (2) alternate strikes. In non-
capital cases in my home state (Texas), we use simultaneous written strikes from a list of the
venirepersons. Simultaneous striking always entails the possibility of "double strikes," i.e., where
each side strikes the same person. to get a jury of twelve. Other jurisdictions utilize the alternating
strikes method where each side exercises its peremptory strikes on a back-and-forth basis, e.g.,
where the defense gets ten peremptories and the government six: the defense strikes 2, the
government strikes 2, the defense strikes 2, the government strikes 2, the defense strikes 2, the
government strikes 1, the defense strikes 2, the government strikes 1, the defense strikes 2. The law
in some states provides that twelve person juries are selected in panels of four, e.g., I believe Illinois
law provides, "Parties shall pass upon and accept the jury in panels of four, commencing with the
Prepare for juror notetaking if it is allowed. An increasing number of courts are allowing jurors to
take notes, particularly in trials that last several days. Federal courts permit the practice. If your state
has not established a policy, consider the merits of moving the court to permit notetaking.
See Motion Practice. Customarily, courts impose limitations on how and when juror's may use their
notes. Be ready with a limiting instruction if you are seeking leave to permit notetaking in a
jurisdiction without established guidelines.
Plan ahead for a possible Batson objection. [This discussion will not go deeply into detail
regarding Batson procedures.] Be aware that neither side is allowed to exercise a peremptory
challenge based on the race or gender of a prospective juror. The famous Batson v. Kentucky, 476
U.S. 79 (1986) case created a three-prong process for a trial court to use to determine if there is an
Equal Protection violation of the U.S. Constitution. Briefly, it goes like this: First, the objecting party
must make a prima facie showing to the trial court that one or more peremptory challenges
exercised by opposing counsel is race or gender based. Second, when the prima facie proof
requirement is satisfied by the objecting party, the burden shifts to the lawyer who exercised the
questionable peremptory challenge to articulate a comprehensible race or gender neutral
explanation (It doesn't have to be plausible or persuasive, so long as it is not inherently
discriminatory.) for the strike(s) in question. Third, when an explanation is proffered, the trial court
has the obligation of determining whether the objecting party has carried his burden of proving
purposeful discrimination, i.e., determining whether the objecting party has proven racial or gender
based motivation for the peremptory, including consideration of whether the race or gender neutral
explanation of the party exercising the peremptory challenge negates purposeful discrimination. The
objecting party has the burden of proving that the race or gender neutral explanation(s) of the party
exercising the peremptory is unworthy of belief. The trial judge looks at the "genuineness" of the
reason given for the peremptory, not its "reasonableness." See Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765 (1996)
holding that a facially neutral peremptory challenge, even if it is "implausible or fantastic," can be a
basis for a peremptory challenge. On the Batson issue, you must act quickly when the ground
appears. Why? Because in most jurisdictions, including Texas, you must make your race or gender
based discrimination objection before the jury is sworn. Timewise, this means that there is a very
brief period between the time when the jury for the case is selected and the time when those chosen
as jurors are sworn in, e.g., when the jurors take their oath. You have to object during this time
interval or waive the Batson objection. As a practice tip, I suggest that you alert the court on the
record before the voir dire begins that you anticipate having the Batson objection and will need to be
given a reasonable period of time to make the Batson objection after the names of the persons
selected as jurors are called and before they are sworn.[This announcement that you "may have
a Batson objection," made in the presence of opposing counsel, can have a chilling affect on the
effectiveness of the opponent's questioning because s/he will be disconcertingly concerned with
saying or not saying anything that might provide a ground for your anticipated Batson objection.
Suppose you do anticipate that your opponent has relied on race or gender in exercising his
peremptory challenge. What do you do to raise a prima facie Batson violation? Here are a few
suggestions: (1) Object to the opponent's improper use of peremptory challenges on a certain
prospective juror(s) on the ground that the strike was based on race or gender; (2) Identify the
prospective juror by number and by name from the list; (3) Ask that the panel of all the prospective
jurors not be discharged until the court has an opportunity to hear your Batson challenge and the
opposing counsel's response and then to rule definitively on your Batson objection; (4) State the
improper factor, i.e., race or gender, that you believe was used by opposing counsel to exercise the
peremptory challenge; (5) Recite the race or gender of the prospective jurors that you believe were
excluded improperly by peremptory challenge and get the court to take judicial notice of it; (6) State
the racial or gender composition of the jury that was selected; (7) Indicate for the record the racial
composition of the entire panel of prospective jurors. (You'll need to have a chart and keep good
notes on the race and sex of venirepersons and the questions that the opposing counsel asked each
prospective juror, particularly whether the opponent's questions to the prospective jurors in question
are relevant; make yourself a chart to help keep track of race and gender for
your Batson challenge.); (8) Ask the court to require the opposing counsel to provide his/her reasons
for the use of each of the questioned strikes; (9) Ask for a hearing at which you can prove that the
race or gender neutral explanations were unworthy of belief, i.e., not genuine. If, at the first phase,
you have met your burden of producing evidence to show a prima facie Batson violation, the
opposing counsel will almost certainly testify at the second stage as to his race or gender neutral
reason for exercising the peremptory strike. If opposing counsel does call herself as a witness, you
have the right to cross-examine. Before you cross, try to get discovery of counsel's notes under your
state's version of the Jencks Act. If counsel refers to his notes prior to or during direct, ask for
production of them on cross. If the trial court won't allow you to inspect the notes, ask the court to
review them in camera. If the judge still refuses to grant discovery, ask to have the notes placed in
the record for appeal. [Tip: Opposing counsel may have a race code in his/her notes or on his/her
seating chart.] The remedy for a Batson violation is either to seat the improperly challenged juror or
to get a new panel. Ask for the remedy that helps you most. Other Batson cases: Powers v. Ohio,
499 U.S. 400 (1991) holding that the defense has standing to raise a Batson issue irrespective of
whether the accused and the excluded juror(s) are of the same race; Edmonson v. Leesville
Concrete Company, 500 U.S. 614 (1991) holding that Batson also applies to civil cases; Georgia v.
McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1991) holding that, because the right not to be excused because of race
belongs to the juror(s), the prosecution has the right to assert a Batson objection against the defense
efforts to excuse jurors because of race; J.E.B. v. Alabama, 511 U.S. 127 (1994) holding
that Batson applies to exclusion from jury service based on gender (1). Look at these two cases
reversed for Batson errors: Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005); Johnson v. California, 543 U.S.
499 (2005) (Miller-El suggests that some proof of discrimination can can be made through showing
broad practice and patterns in previous cases; it also allows comparative analysis of those kept on
the jury vis a vis those struck. The Johnson case was reversed for an improperly burdensome rule
regarding defendant's initial proof that discrimination motivated the prosecution's peremptory
challenges; the proper standard is whether the defendant has raised a reasonable inference of
impermissible group bias in the prosecutor's use of peremptories.); Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333
(2006) upheld a California trial judge's rejection of a Batson challenge; Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S.
472 (2008) holding that the prosecutor's proffered reasons for striking black prospective jurors were
a pretext for racial discrimination and required reversal as a Batson violation. See also Rivera v.
Illinois, 556 U.S. 148 (2009), a reverse-Batson case, holding that the trial court's good faith error in
denying defendant's peremptory challenge to a prospective juror did not deprive the defendant of a
right to trial before a fair and impartial jury. [Tip: Here's a novel potential Batson defense challenge
that you might consider when you know that the prosecutor has researched jurors' prior criminal
history: If you suspect that the prosecutor is checking prior criminal history only of members of an
identifiable class, e.g., racial or gender, consider, for purposes of a Batson challenge, asking for
discovery of the information gleaned during the criminal history checks that were done; most courts
won't give you information contained in criminal history records and, of course, defense lawyers are
not permitted to access the National Crime Information Center databases of criminal history;
prosecutors are.] Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 1171 (2010) held that Batson does not
require that the trial judge reject a demeanor-based explanation for a challenge unless the trial judge
personally observed and recalls the aspect of the prospective juror's demeanor on which the
explanation is based. Felkner v. Jackson, 562 U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 1305 (2011) reversed the Ninth
Circuit and held that, on federal habeas review, AEDPA "imposes a highly deferential standard for
evaluating state-court rulings" and "demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the
doubt." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 1862, 176 L.Ed.2d 678 (2010) [Note: Texas
lawyers should be aware that state case law holds that Batson does not apply to religion-based
peremptories, see Casarez v. State, 913 S.W.2d 468 (Tex. Crim. App. 1995).] For the most current
scholarship on Batson, read for free the thirteen articles in the Batson Symposium, Iowa Law
Review, Vol. 97, No.5 (July 2012).
Scout your opponent. Without fanfare, try to watch your opponent conducting a voir dire jury
selection. We are creatures of habit. Opposing counsel is no different. Expect her to employ much
the same approach in your case.
Use pretrial motions to improve your voir dire position. Use pretrial motions to educate the
judge on your theory of the case. If the judge knows your theory of the case before voir dire begins,
the judge will be aware of the importance of your questions to your exercise of peremptory
challenges. If the case has had extensive publicity or involves a potentially explosive issue, e.g.,
sexual molestation of a child, you might be able to persuade the trial court to allow individual
questioning of the prospective jurors. If the prosecution has access to NCIC computer-generated
records of arrests and convictions of the prospective jurors or records of prior jury service and
verdicts, the defense may choose to file a discovery motion seeking disclosure or sharing of this
information to level the playing field. [Note: If one prosecutor is at the courtroom computer running
the names of the jurors for prior criminal records or prior jury history, the defense may want to
structure the voir dire to reveal this to the panel.] Use strategic motions in limine to control the
subject matter of your opponent's anticipated questioning of the prospective jurors. Be ready with a
written fill-in-the-blanks Batson motion. The defense may give thought to courteously moving the
openly prosecution-friendly judge to refrain during the challenge for case colloquy from partisan
efforts to rehabilitate venire members who are subject to defense challenge for cause.
Prepare an ideal juror profile and a worst juror profile that reflect the specific characteristics
of what you visualize as the perfect juror and worst juror for your case. If you are not an
experienced trial court veteran, this one takes some advance thought and brainstorming with
colleagues who may have more experience with jurors. Consider in advance the personal
characteristics that you will look for in the venire, and be ready to discover and identify the presence
of these factors in the venire.
Use a short written questionnaire to obtain vital information. Judges typically allot 30 minutes to
an hour for juror voir dire. Jurors are less than forthcoming with candid answers when speaking in a
group of strangers. You will get much more information if you combine voir dire with a questionnaire
(1). A questionnaire allows a prospective juror to divulge private attitudes and information. This may
differ considerably from what the juror would be willing to make public during the oral questioning by
counsel or the court. Some judges don't seem to comprehend this. (See the next pointer.) A
questionnaire also allows you collect much more information than you can by oral questioning.
Consider, for example, how long it would take to orally ask each juror what TV shows s/he likes to
watch vis a vis asking the same question in a written questionnaire. [A study suggests that shows
like Cops, Rescue 911, etc., are watched by those who are conviction prone - a little scary, since I'm
a Cops fan.] When you start preparing, consult this lady lawyer/jury consultant's blawg for free
samples of well crafted jury questionnaires from major cases; the samples are lengthy; you'll need to
customize and trim 'em down.
Be aware that you are safer putting sensitive questions requiring lengthy responses in the
written juror questionnaire. People are more honest on a questionnaire than in open court. Show-
of-hands questions and "yes" and "no" answers don't tell you much about your future decision
makers. Also, you can include questions in a questionnaire that you wouldn't dare risk asking the
entire panel, "Have you or anyone in your family been the victim of sexual abuse?", "What do you
think about criminal defense lawyers?", "Why do you feel that way?", " On a scale of 1 to 10 ( 10
being most open and 1 being least open), how would you rate yourself on being open to changing
your mind once you've formed an opinion?", etc.
Try to utilize a jury questionnaire in every case. A questionnaire (1) is essential to you in
obtaining information that will provide a basis for a challenge for cause and allow you to make
intelligent use of your peremptories. Preparing a questionnaire is not overly difficult. You don't have
to have a jury consultant. One general source of questions is the somewhat dated Bennett book
published by West and available through Westlaw. If you are working on a shoestring budget, you
can download several different questionnaires from that book and then do "cut and paste surgery" to
customize one for your case. You can download several sample questionnaires , i.e., DUI, Murder
(gang), sexual assault, sexual assault of a child, and death penalty, in pdf format online. Once you
have constructed a questionnaire for one case, with a little surgery it can often be used for
subsequent cases of the same ilk. It's getting that first one done that is laborious.
Construct a questionnaire that is fair to both sides. You'll be asking opposing counsel to agree
to the use of a questionnaire and to the contents of it. Be even-handed in putting together your
proposed questionnaire. Seek to identify biases about specific issues; obtain demographic data,
personality characteristics, attitudinal and world-view information; frame your questions to promote
feedback that will help you in predicting what role the prospective juror will play in the juror hierarchy
during deliberations. In deciding about each question, ask yourself whether and how the answer will
help you. Follow up questions by asking, " Why do you feel that way?" If possible, frame questions
so that they explain why the question is being asked. Use check boxes for yes or no questions. Try
to have four or five key questions that will provide you with a glimpse into the juror's private belief
and attitudinal system. For example, you probably won't want negotiators if your objective is a hung
Use paper that will make copies and color code the jurors' answer sheets to the
questionnaire. You may find it helpful when constructing the questionnaires to use paper that will
make at least two copies of the questionnaire. If so, color code the answer sheets of your
questionnaire for each party, e.g, top sheet for the court, light green sheets for the prosecution, light
blue for the defense.
Get opposing counsel to agree to the contents of the questionnaire well before trial. Try to
send your first draft of the questionnaire to opposing counsel 4 to 6 weeks in advance of trial. Before
the trial setting, send a courtesy copy of the agreed questionnaire to the court.
Give yourself time to examine the answers to the questionnaires before you begin the oral
questioning. When you have agreed upon a questionnaire that is more than a couple of pages long,
consider asking the court to bring the panel in one day early to fill out the questionnaire. If the
questionnaire is only a page or two in length, ask to have the prospective jurors brought to court to
complete the questionnaire in mid-morning; have the panel members report back for oral questioning
in the early afternoon. The point is that you want to have an opportunity to examine the answers to
the questionnaire before you begin your oral questioning.
NEW - Find out the size and estimated value of your prospective jurors' homes, and view
their homes from an aerial satellite camera - all for free. You can go to a number of web sites,
e.g., (1 very good with satellite bird's-eye view), (2 - home values only) and, with the address and zip
code of a home, determine its present estimated value, together with its size and location in relation
to other houses in the area. The estimated values are claimed to have a 7-8% median error. You'll
also see the home and others on the block from a satellite camera. This site (1) provides
neighborhood demographics. If you have Internet access from the courthouse and a sidekick to do
the computer work, this information can be at your fingertips before you make the decision about
challenging a juror. Before too long, you will be able to use your computer to drive down each juror's
street and view his/her house from ground level. Search "Google street maps," and you'll see what I
Prepare an anticipated jury charge well before the jury voir dire and study it so you will know
what the opposition's proof must be and what the judge will tell the jurors at the end of the
trial. You can usually find a set of approved pattern jury instructions for almost any jurisdiction. You
can't instruct the venire on the law during voir dire, but you can ask questions that relate to the
potential jurors' ability to follow the law. Tactic: I suggest that you preface any discussion of the law
with the phrase, " If I am right, at the end of this case Her Honor is going to tell you (insert the
relevant applicable law from the pattern instructions. I need to ask you how you feel about that law.)
Prepare a jury selection seating chart for jotting down information about each of the
prospective jurors in the appropriate block and develop a secret rating code. Scout the
courtroom and find out how the jurors are seated. Prepare a voir dire seating chart and a seating
chart for the jury box itself. Some courts will provide you with a voir dire seating chart. Because
courtroom layouts differ, there is no standard form for the voir dire seating of jurors; however, here's
an example (1 - from a court in Washington state). Set up a rating system. You might consider a 1 to
5 point system, with 1 being "best" and 5 "worst." Tactic: One of the craftiest criminal trial lawyers I
ever knew used to add an interesting 180 degree twist to his written jury selection chart. This lawyer
writes "good juror" as a synonym for the "terrible # 5 juror" and "bad juror" for his "good #1 juror." He
then was somewhat reckless in placing his seating chart with his misleading notations in a place
where it could be seen by the prying eyes of opposing counsel. He called this strategy "messing with
their minds." [This is the same guy who always preferred to sit back, watch, and listen to the
prosecutor questioning prospective jurors. He felt like he could size prospective jurors up easier
when he could devote 100% of his effort to them, rather than trying to also pose questions and react
to the answers. Bob was a smart chap.]
Write out your anticipated voir dire questions in advance of trial. Until you have tried a number
of cases before juries, I suggest, as part of your pretrial planning, that you force yourself to go
through the drill of deciding upon appropriate voir dire questions, including follow-up questions.
Then, study these questions until you are familiar with them. If you are serious about improving upon
your craft, find a couple of willing guinea pigs and practice asking your questions in a dry run. Try to
embed several open-ended questions that are designed to reveal attitudes of persons you don't want
on your jury. Ask these embedded questions in the middle portion of your questioning, so you won't
run out of time before posing them. Type you questions in easily readable type on numbered pages.
Keep the pages loose so you can slide them under one another rather than turn pages. Page turning
makes your questioning look canned. The idea is not to question from the write-out. Don't ever read
your voir dire questions!!! Question extemporaneously. If you must use the write-out questions, use
them as an occasional guide. If you read questions to the panel of prospective jurors, you will lose
your emotional and ethical connection with the jurors.
Memorize and practice delivering your opening and closing lines and know the phrasing of
your key questions. Remember, you want to look good. You'll be known in part by the fruit of your
lips. The prospective jurors will be most attentive at the beginning of your voir dire. That's your only
chance to make a good first impression. They'll remember most of what you say at the end. So, pick
your beginning and ending voir dire statements carefully. Commit these opening and closing lines to
memory. It'll be difficult the first two or three times, but thereafter, subject to a bit of tinkering, you will
always be ready to open and close a voir dire. These are the only parts of the voir dire you need to
Figure out what it is about your case that scares you most, i.e., the biggest problem, and plan
how you will broach the subject in voir dire. It's best to face your problems head-on and deal with
them, rather than burying your head in the sand. This takes planning, since you cannot concede a
problem without it being held against you by the jurors. What you want to do is construct questions
that evince your concern with how the jurors may view apparent weaknesses in your case. To find
the scary parts of your case, you will have to consider the likely prejudices and biases that jurors will
bring with them. What kind of juror prejudices and/or biases are likely to be evoked by the evidence?
Consider the belief systems and attitudes that many people may share. Consider cultural
stereotypes in our heterogeneous population of jurors. For example, people may have very set
attitudes concerning: the accused not testifying, the accused's prior criminal record, eyewitness
identification, the war on drugs, the police or government being on trial, the psychological defenses
of insanity or diminished capacity, retreat as a condition precedent to self-defense, anger or fear that
may have created an extreme emotional disturbance in the accused's mind in a manslaughter case,
Sort out the ways of dealing with the juror who gives off-the-wall paradoxical answers to
questions. One method of handling the extreme juror is to simply ignore the ridiculous answer.
Another approach is to attempt to talk to the juror who voices an opinion you don't like. Without being
argumentative, present the juror with an even more extreme opinion than the one s/he expressed. If
the juror accepts the extreme posited position, you can challenge for cause. If not, the juror will
appear to have backed off from publicly adhering to the initial opinion (though you still may want to
use a peremptory on him).
Think about your courtroom location. Find out in advance whether the trial judge has any
requirements as to where you sit or stand in questioning the prospective jurors. It is quite common in
jurisdictions where you question a large panel en mass to allow lawyers to move freely about in the
well during jury voir dire. On the other hand, some judges will require that you question from a
lectern. In some cases, where, for example, you are questioning prospective jurors who are seated
in the jury box, you may be required to question from a seated position. In short, scout out the court,
and choreograph your jury voir dire in advance.
Prepare two-sided numbered cards for the venire members to hold up in response to
questions directed to the group: Depending on whether the case is a felony or misdemeanor, you
are typically speaking to a group of 20 to 50 prospective jurors. Suppose you ask a question of the
panel, e.g., 'How many of you folks have a friend or a relative who works in law enforcement?" or
you ask a question of a specific juror, e.g., "Mr. Firefly, if someone you loved was charged by the
government with a serious crime, would you want that person to have a lawyer to defend themself
against the charge?" but want to have everyone else answer the question. How do you get your
answer from everyone in the assembled group? For many years, lawyers have resorted to a "raise-
your-hand" approach. In the process, hands are often missed. The better approach is to supply each
juror with a laminated numbered card that is easily raised up, held and seen. If the court does not
supply numbered cards, make your own using cover-stock and stick-on plastic laminated sheets,
available at office supply stores. You can use your word processor and copier to print two-sided
numbered cards. Prepare one card for each prospective juror you anticipate being on the panel.
Once you have the cards prepared, use two sheets of sticky plastic laminate to seal each card. In
courts that still rely on the raise-your-hand approach, you will need to get the court's permission to
have the bailiff pass out the numbered cards before questioning of the panel begins. Don't forget to
collect your cards after voir dire is complete. Have a back-up set handy.
Listening and observing during opposing counsel's questioning may be more important than
talking. A big part of your job in voir dire is to listen and watch during both your questioning and the
opposition's questioning. To make skillful use of their peremptory strikes, some of the best jury
pickers I know depend heavily upon critical listening (1) (2 - active listening) (3) (4 - listen
to Listening Is a 10-Part Skill) and observing during the opposition's questioning. Rather than
counting solely on their own questions to get a feel for the prospective jurors and to ferret out
information, these advocates focus on listening and watching when the other side is talking to the
venire. It's easier when your opponent is talking because you can concentrate on receiving without
having to transmit. Also, when I say, "Listen critically," I don't mean listening selectively. I mean
listen like a safecracker listening for the tumblers to click and reveal the combination.
Look for potential enemies among the venire. As previously mentioned, jury voir dire can be
viewed, in part, as a "deselection" process that requires you to decide how you will exercise your
peremptory challenges (Hence, the title of this monograph before I put it online was more correctly
"Jury Deselection."). You are deciding who you don't want on your jury. The opposition is doing the
same thing. In voir dire, you are trying to find and strike the people that would be against you from
Look for potential friends among the venire. You are looking for people who are friendly to you.
In trying to locate your "friends" among the panel, ask yourself, "Whom would I want to invite home
for dinner? Would they accept my invitation?" If you find such a person, be wary of making it equally
obvious to opposing counsel.
Consider opening your questioning in a novel manner. The typical approach to jury voir dire is to
introduce yourself (and, if you are a defender, your client) and then explain briefly how the
questioning process works. That's okay for novices. But consider starting in a more dynamic way.
For your information, here are several novel approaches to opening that I have heard. In one case,
after the prosecution had concluded, I watched a defender stand and ask as his first question, "Well,
is it over? Have you heard enough? Are we done for? Aren't there two sides to everything? Have
you ever seen a coin, a pillow, or a pancake that didn't have two sides? Let me visit with you in
behalf of our side of this controversy." I saw another defender start his voir dire questioning by
asking, "How many of you would want to be allowed to defend yourself if you were wrongfully
accused of a crime? How many of you believe that there ought to be rules so that anyone in this
country can get a fair trial?" Another defense lawyer opened her voir dire by asking, "How many of
you believe that 'criminals have too many rights' ?" How many of you believe that, because a person
is accused by the government of a crime, he is probably guilty?" Another asked, " How many of you
believe that (name the client) can get a fair trial?" The list could go on. I'm not suggesting that you
use any of these openings for your voir dire. My point is simply that you may want to start your voir
dire questioning with a creative hook that engages your audience of prospective fact-finders, rather
than simply standing up, introducing yourself and your client, and telling the jurors that "voir dire"
means "to tell the truth" in Norman-French.
Defenders should be cautious about starting their voir dire with a lecture about the
presumption of innocence, the burden of proof and/or the concept of reasonable doubt. It's
always useful to have the trial court preinstruct the prospective jurors on these legal valuable legal
concepts. The jurors are much more likely to take these individual rights to heart if reminded about
them by the judge. Ask the trial judge to tell the jury about your client's right to the presumption of
innocence, the prosecution's burden of proof, and the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
But don't open your voir dire with these concepts. I always remember the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon
of little Calvin writing a wish letter to Santa Claus saying, "I'm entitled to the presumption of
innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt." That kind of plea doesn't work with a jury any
better than it works for little Calvin with Santa!
Shed a bit of ego. Most of us are ego-centered. This is particularly true of those who make their
living trying to persuade others in courtrooms. Let's face it. Many young lawyers who stand in front of
a group of jurors are silently praying, "Love me - love me - love me. But enough about you!" It's very
easy for an advocate to view the overall trial, including the jury selection process, as a lawyer
focused event, where all eyes are on the lawyer as performer. This is a mistake. The effective
advocate is the one who puts his/her ego on the back burner and recognizes that the trial is not
about him/her. The effective trial lawyer is the one who can shed ego and concentrate on the task at
hand. You are a player, but, more importantly, during voir dire you are an observer and listener. You
are watching and listening because you must consider what will resonate with the jurors selected for
the case. Don't let you ego get in the way of you powers of observation.
If questionnaires are being used, fill one out yourself, and use it as a self-revelation prop to
introduce yourself to the jurors. Jurors are more likely to accept a message from a person they
like than from a person they don't like. How do you make it possible for jurors to like you? One way
is to reveal some good things about yourself during voir dire. I suggest that you use the jury
questionnaire as a vehicle for telling the jurors some positive things about yourself, i.e., that you are
a good person. Here's how you do it. Simply say, "The court has asked each of you to fill out this jury
information questionnaire (Hold it up.) that asks you to reveal some personal data about yourself. In
any other context, most of you would probably not feel good about strangers prying into such
personal matters. Of course, none of us wants to invade your privacy, but this sort of personal
inquiry is part of the jury selection process. We certainly appreciate you time and effort in filling out
this questionnaire. In the interest of fair disclosure, I've filled out one of these questionnaires myself.
(Hold it up.) We've found out quite a bit about you from your questionnaire. Turn about is fair play.
Mine tells you that (recite some revealing and worthy information about yourself based on the
personal data questions contained in the questionnaire.)" [Caveat: When you reveal information
about yourself in voir dire, don't go overboard, and never try to match every juror statement of self-
revelation with a self-disclosure of your own.]
Point out that this is your only chance to talk with the people who will be jurors. Tell them that
this will be the only time you are allowed by law to visit with them. Emphasize that this isn't an oral
examination or a personality test. Tell them there are no right or wrong answers to any of the
questions they'll be asked. Let them know that all you ask of them is that they tell you how they really
Always use the juror's name. The sound of his or her own name is a sweet music to the juror's ear.
When you use the juror's name, it recognizes the juror as an individual. Most of us don't have the
ability to memorize a string of names. If you are one who can't memorize names, when you address
the juror for the first time look down at your seating chart, get the juror's name, then look at the juror
and address his/her by name. Don't read the juror's name from your chart and then look up at the
juror. Visualize the difference between these two approaches. It's easy to see why the latter is
Let the prospective juror articulate his or her view on crucial issues. Don't speak for the juror.
This is one of the most common and serious mistakes of the rookie advocate. You want things to go
smoothly. You want the juror to see it your way. So, you make the mistake of putting words in the
mouth of the juror. You ask leading questions. You interrupt the juror's answer. You assume you
know what the person wants to articulate. It ruffles the juror's feathers, other jurors see it as pushy
and impolite, and, most important, you don't get to find out what the prospective juror really thinks
and feels. Use questions that focus on potential problems with a phrase such as, " I have a concern
about (state the problem). Would you share your feelings or reaction with us?" The goal here is to
get the juror talking and really listen (1) to what s/he is saying. [Note: Plain experience teaches us
that people think in different ways. Don't we refer to people as "broad-minded" (viewing things in an
expansive way and thinking about all the possibilities) and "narrow-minded" (lacking in breadth of
vision and unable to consider various causative possibilities)? Whether you want a broad-minded or
narrow-minded juror is a matter that depends in part on your theory of the case, but it will help you in
jury selection to know something of the way your individual jurors sort things out.]
Consider the level of the prospective jurors' level of experience. If your case involves a subject
with which a juror has had previous experience, that juror is more likely to have a fixed opinion about
that subject. People who have not had direct person experience with the subject are more tractable,
i.e., capable of being led, taught, managed, controlled. Find out whether the juror has had direct
prior experience with crucial subjects. The jury questionnaire is the best method of obtaining
preliminary insight regarding juror experience with particular subjects.
Ask the prospective juror to visualize. Visualization involves asking the jurors to try to remember
how they felt in a certain situation, i.e., how the juror felt when s/he was falsely accused of doing
something s/he didn't do. You can utilize this technique with any feeling that is key to your case. The
purpose is to have the jurors experience the emotion. Mechanically, you ask one prospective juror to
remember the feeling and then ask that juror to share the feeling by describing how s/he felt.
Suppose, for example, that the theme of your case is betrayal. Focusing on the concept of betrayal,
you might ask, "May I ask you to close your eyes for a second and go back in time to the worst
betrayal that ever happened to you? I want you to think about it and how you felt. Can you share
how that made you feel?" The purpose is to rekindle the emotion in the members of the group. You
might try visualization in a case where the accused is a minority member and the panel of
prospective jurors is overwhelmingly Caucasian and Hispanic. For example, you might ask a
Caucasian juror, "Suppose that you were in Harlem or Atlanta or Detroit or some other community
where overwhelming majority of the citizens are African-American. How would you feel if you were a
white defendant in a courtroom of such a city where virtually everyone else, and I mean the judge,
the court reporter, the clerk, the prosecutor, the witnesses and all of the juror, were black?"
Seek information rather than trying to change outlooks or overpower. Don't tell 'em how to feel.
Find out how they feel. As I said above, after many years of teaching trial advocacy the biggest
mistake that I see in rookie defenders and prosecutors is their tendency to want to control the
answers of panel members, i.e., to try to influence the basic thought process and world views of the
venire. In law school, we've taught you to argue, not to converse. Voir dire is about conversation (1),
and argument is the worst sort of conversation. Jurors hear you when they are moving toward you
and they aren't likely to do that when your words are pursing them. So don't be too passionate about
trying to set your prospective jurors right. Look at this way, jurors don't resist change - they resist
being changed. Beginning lawyers work too hard preaching to the venire, trying to get them to
promise what they will or won't do. It doesn't work. Jurors are like buffalo - you can make 'em go
anywhere, just so long as they want to go there. Let them tell you what they think. Don't try to tell
them how you think they should think! Most of us, particularly the 'mature seniors aka fossils' like
myself are so fused to our entrenched core belief systems that we stubbornly and blindly cling to
them, even when they are wrongheaded. Hey, every person on the planet sees the world through a
different knothole. In a trial that lasts several days, you don't have enough time or formats to change
settled, basic attitudes that have been molded over lifetimes. Your job is not to tell these folks how to
think, but rather to find out what they think and how they think. You try to eliminate the venire
members who will not be receptive to the story of your case and the values it embraces. You must
find the message that appeals to the jurors, but you won't be able to materially change your basic
trial story simply to fit the jurors for the case. If you are to be successful, the impaneled jurors must
be receptive to your trial story. That's why the de/selection process is so vital for you in finding out
the prospective jurors' interests, views, expertise, life experiences, diversity, etc. Keep in mind the
old saw: The evidence won't shape the jurors, the jurors will shape the evidence.
The following words, uttered in another context by the agnostic British philosopher Bertrand Russell
seem useful to me when we are exploring how our beliefs and desires influence our receptivity to
What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires
- desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes
against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming,
he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords
a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.
Go from general to specific in your questioning about attitudes and experiences. (Some call
this "funneling.") Start with general attitudes and experiences, and then go to specifics. For example,
once you get a juror to indicate a general belief, ask him/her why s/he feels that way. Sometimes
there is danger in getting too close in asking about individual experiences. For example, it could be
risky to ask a prospective juror, "Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?" Instead, ask a
general attitudinal question such as, "What do you think about psychiatrists?" A general experiential
question might be, "Does anyone know anyone who has had psychiatric therapy?"
To determine juror attitudes, use short open-ended non-leading questions. Invite the jurors to
give a revealing answer by asking the "how" and "why" questions (with a few "who, what, when, and
where's" thrown in for good measure). For example, asking a juror, "How do you feel about (so and
so)?" will elicit more information than asking, "Do you feel (so and so)?" The prospective juror who
is asked, "What's your reaction to (so and so)?" will divulge more information than s/he would if
asked, "Will you (so and so)?" Also, when you are probing for juror attitudes, don't frame the
question with broad conclusory words such as "Impartial," "prejudice," or "bias" that telegraphs the
Utilize "if" questions" to probe for juror attitudes. One interesting approach to discovering
attitudes involves the use of "if" (stem) questions. The "if" or stem question is akin to a fill-in-the-
blank question. The questioner asks an "if" question and asks the juror to complete the thought in his
own words. "If" questions can be quite useful on a jury questionnaire. Be careful not to phrase them
in a form that would seek to pledge the juror to a particular set of facts. If you ask the question orally,
you might say, "I'm going to start a question and ask you to finish it. (Ask the fill-in-the-blank
question, e.g., "If a person accidentally made a mistaken identification of another person, it would
probably be because (fill in the blank); if a person had been charged with a crime and did not testify
in his own behalf, it would probably be because (fill in the blank))
Try to spot "angry" jurors. I think I recall a someone saying, "To the mean-spirited person, all else
becomes mean." It is very disagreeable to the psyche to walk around being angry without anybody in
particular to be angry at. Show me an angry person, and I'll show you a person who is afraid of life.
Angry people are hard to persuade. Defense lawyers typically don't want jurors who are fearful and
ready to direct their anger at the accused. Prosecutors may like these folks, and may even try to turn
a juror's fear of crime into anger at the defendant. How do you spot an angry person? Our world view
is sometimes written in our face. We all natively learn what a sourpuss (a grouch, a killjoy) is. [TIP: A
sagacious Texas defense lawyer once advised me that he had a standing rule never to accept as a
juror "a person with a mouth no bigger than a chicken's ass." If you don't understand the shrewdness
of the rule, check it out the next time you're in the barnyard. Enough said.]
Learn to lead a juror when you need "yes" or "no" answers. There will be times when you will
want to lead a juror, e.g., when you are trying to disqualify a juror with a challenge for cause. If you
want to lead a juror and get "yes" or "no" answers, you will typically be asking questions that begin
with leaders, e.g., "Can you," "Will you," "Do you," "Do you understand that." Of course, if you don't
want monosyllabic answers, don't ask leading questions.
If you want to keep a juror talking, nod your head affirmatively while the juror is responding
to your question. Your head nodding validates the juror, and nine times out of ten s/he will keep on
Know that a substantial percentage of your venire and jury will be members of some
organized religion. If you happen to be theistic but not religious, agnostic or atheistic, know
that most of the people you'll be questioning will be members of an organized religion. When
questioning prospective jurors about their pastime activities, you may choose to ask if anyone is
active in his/her religion (church, mosque, synagogue, temple, etc.). Information about a person's
religion means more if you know something about that religion. Take some time to learn from the
many religion based sites on the Internet.
Express to the prospective juror your true appreciation when the juror openly and candidly
shares useful thoughts or information. Acknowledge candor by responding, perhaps even
sharing your own feelings with the prospective juror in question.
As a way of explaining your inquiry and promoting dialogue, consider doing self-disclosure
at the beginning of a topic. Man people aren't comfortable with airing their likes and dislikes in
public. You can facilitate a prospective juror's willingness to self-reveal by doing it first. For example,
to introduce the subject of prejudice, you might say, "I'd like to give an example of prejudice. Not too
long ago, my home was burglarized. I feel that I couldn't be a fair juror in a burglary case because
I'm still angry about that burglary. I'm prejudiced about burglary." On the issue of bias, you might
say, " We all have biases. Like many of you, I have small children. I'm a peewee soccer coach, and I
honestly don't know that I could be fair to anyone charged with child abuse. I probably wouldn't be a
fair juror in such a case. Some of you might feel the same way. So, I need to ask you how you feel
about (indicate the subject)."
Loop good answers back into your later questions. When one prospective juror says something
good, you can repeat the favorable answer in questioning another juror. For example, you might try
saying, "Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones just said (repeat the exact words of the first juror). How do you feel
about that?" Don't ask what the juror thinks about the subject generally. Ask how the juror feels
about the other juror's answer. It may be better to inquire how the juror "feels" or "reacts" to what the
other juror said than asking what the second juror "thinks" about the subject.
Mirror the intelligence and social level of the prospective juror. When questioning a juror,
consider yourself as a visitor in that person's living room. If you are visiting with a shy Hispanic
female juror who is third grade teacher your manner will differ from that you would display when
talking to a big-boned, tobacco-chewing, brawny, bold, Irish, gravel-voiced bulldozer operator.
People are more open with people that they consider as being like them. Be subtle and moderate in
mirroring. Adjust without being phony. [When we think about over-the-top mirroring, recall the Woody
Allen movie Zelig about the fictional Jewish chameleon, Leonard Zelig, who transformed himself into
the people around him, e.g., having never flown an airplane before, he flies the Atlantic Ocean
upside down when the pilot of the biplane in which he was a passenger becomes incapacitated.
Don't carry mirroring to the Allenesque extent.]
Find a common ground with the juror. Why would you want to establish common ground between
yourself and your potential juror? Because research and common sense teach us that people are
more inclined to trust those they know than strangers. If it didn't sound too obvious, you would
probably like to say, "Mr. Juror, I'm wondering what sort of things you and I might have in common.
May I take you out to dinner or, better yet, spend a few days at your house getting close to you and
becoming your newest best friend?" Obviously, this is wishful thinking. You can't go from stranger to
best buddy in a matter of minutes. But what you can do is establish some common interests
between yourself and the prospective juror, so you will seem less like a stranger and more like
someone the prospective juror knows? You might be able to establish a connection by asking the
juror what s/he likes to do in her/his spare time. If you have enough knowledge of the activity to
discuss it intelligently, you may be able to establish a common interest. People who view themselves
as sharing a common ground with you are more receptive to persuasion than those who don't. They
trust you more. Voir dire is your best opportunity to forge a mini-bond of shared interests with the
prospective jurors. If the shared interest is relevant to the case, you may even be able to work it into
your fact presentation and/or jury argument.
TIP: One of the top prosecutors in my venue starts her voir dire with these throw-down lines that
have built-in bonding:
"My name is (insert the prosecutor's first name). I would like for you (She says "y'all.") to know a
couple of things. First of all, I've been a juror before. I was on a jury in a two-week case several
years ago. And I learned a couple of lessons about mistakes that lawyers make. And I can promise
you I learned from those lessons. Number one, lawyers talk way too much. And, second, a lot of
times lawyers are condescending. And I can promise y'all that I'll never waste your time, and I will
never be condescending to you (y'all) because I know what it feels like, because lawyers have done
it to me.
Notice what this lawyer is doing. She's distancing herself from the time wasting, jaw-flapping,
mouthpieces who spend too much voir dire time babbling, and she is self-identifying with the jurors,
promising not to waste the jurors' time or be arrogant, condescending and/or patronizing. In effect,
she's saying: " I will respect your time. I will treat you like a guest in my home. I will be straight with
you. I will do what I say I'm gonna do. I will expose my vulnerabilities to you. I trust you." The
subtext is "You can trust me. I'm one of you." This lawyer's likability index gathers steam from the
start, and, if she keeps her promises, by the end of the case the jurors will want to adopt her and
take her home, particularly if counsel on the other side happens to be a down-the-nose type,
enamored of his own voice and heedless of the jury. [Caveat: Don't stretch to find an area of
common interest with every prospective juror. Do it only when you do have a common interest and,
even then, don't talk too much about yourself. When you focus the spotlight on yourself, you're
probably being arrogant and/or pompous.]
Be sure you hear every prospective juror's voice. Make it a cardinal rule to have a conversation,
however brief, with each venireperson who could be on the jury. If you can't think of anything else,
ask them what they enjoy doing in their free time, e.g., hobbies, and follow-up. The people that wind
up on juries are often the ones that neither side talks with. If you practice in a jurisdiction that allows
lawyer questioning, make sure that you have used your voir dire opportunity to have a tete a' tete
with every person that winds up on the jury for your case.
Look for the leaders (1), negotiators, and/or deal makers in the group of prospective jurors,
and understand that they will wield disproportionate power as the group plays "follow the
leader." After thirty years of teaching trial advocacy and viewing several hundred jury deliberations
in mock trials, I am still continually amazed at how, in the confines of the deliberation room, strong
personalities (the "leaders") rule the passive personalities (the "followers"). On reflection, I probably
shouldn't be surprised at this dichotomy of personalities. Common sense would suggest that any
group of twelve literate adults chosen at random from the general population would include people
that would classify themselves and/or be classified by others as "leaders" or "followers." By
followers, I mean what Mark Twain called "discreet sheep." These are the jurors who may wait to
see where the flock (Twain called it the "drove") is going and go with it. Any group of decision-
makers chosen at random will include certain members that, by force of will, exercise inordinate or
disproportionate power over the group's deliberations. It becomes particularly interesting during
deliberations when the jury contains a couple of Alpha wolf leaders who have diametric views of the
case. Then deliberation typically becomes torrid debate.. Add to the mix the occasional maverick
whose attitude is, "Whenever I find that I am on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and
reflect," or "I believe professional wrestling is clean and every other sport is fixed" and you've got the
potential for fiery dispute reminiscent of a hyena fight on Animal Planet. [Note: My observations here
are anecdotal, based as they are on observing hundreds of mock trial jury deliberations. Some
behavioral scientists have devoted their professional lives to studying and researching human
behavior in groups. They have discovered, identified, and written about how people act in groups.
These scientists call the subject "group dynamics." Read as much of this scientific literature as you
can. Learn about the psychology of human behavior. This knowledge will help you use the jury voir
dire to locate both the powerful and passive personalities. Visualize how each of these prospective
jurors will act in the jury room during the deliberative process.]
Don't overdo your questioning of persons you like. It can be a mistake to ask too many
questions. Remember, the other side is probably listening to the jurors' answers. [Of course, it has
been documented that a Texas defense lawyer may use a capital murder case as an occasion to
grab a few winks. See Burdinev.Johnson, 262 F.3d 336 (5th Circuit 2001).] If you have a prospective
juror that you like, you may not want to ask that person many revealing questions. The questions
you do ask of the person you want as a juror should probably focus on the negative aspects of the
juror. Sometimes a bluff will make the opposing lawyer think that you will strike the person you really
want. On the other hand, if the other side is certain to strike your favorable juror, you may want to
use that person as a sounding board to ventilate useful thoughts that may favorably impact others on
Talk straight. As you talk with the panel, don't be too verbally nimble. Avoid verbal trickery. It is a
mistake to try to ambush, embarrass, or intimidate prospective jurors. You'll win the battle, but you
lose the war if others on the panel resent your exercise of lawyer power to demean one of their
Don't use stock, boilerplate questions unless they will help you. It doesn't hurt to consult
available books or monographs that provide you with hundreds of examples of possible voir dire
questions. Use these practitioner's guides as a starting point for devising questions and custom-tailor
them to your case.
Point out how important it is for all the jurors to have their heads in the game rather than
relying on others to do their critical listening for them. Jurors who have gotten to know each
other may fall into the habit of relying on certain of their numbers to do the critical listening. Caution
them about how different people who have heard the same thing remember it differently. You might
use a story, e.g., the village priest and the wine barrel, to illustrate your point. [The village priest
story goes like this: "Let me take a moment to tell you a quick little story that relates to my next
question: The residents of a small Spanish village determined to acknowledge their local priest by
each bringing a bottle of wine to the parish house and pouring it into the priest's empty wine barrel.
The priest was delighted and asked all the parishioners to join him in a glass of wine from the now
full barrel. But when the tap was opened, only water came out. You see, each of the villagers had
brought a wine bottle filled with water, thinking that all the others would bring wine and that one
bottle of water wouldn't be noticed. Everyone wound up relying on someone else to fulfill
commitment. I suppose we all understand that the point of the story from the standpoint of this case
is that each of you has to bring your undiluted attention to the job of sitting in judgment of another
person. May we have your individual commitment to listen carefully to all the evidence?]
Point out that the role of the jury is to decide, not necessarily to arrive at a verdict. Defenders
may find it useful to use jury voir dire as a place to make clear to the prospective jurors that their job
is to arrive at a verdict only if they can do so without giving up their personal abiding belief. In other
words, in some cases the jury may not be able to reach a unanimous verdict (assuming that your
state requires unanimity) because jurors see the case differently. Tell the prospective jurors, "The
law doesn't require that you arrive at a verdict, only that you make a good faith effort to do so. If after
prolonged deliberation some of you have an abiding belief that the verdict should be one way and
others have an abiding belief that it should be the other way, you all do your duty
by deciding not to decide. We call that a hung jury, and there's no disgrace whatsoever in that. The
law makes provision for cases where there is simply a good faith inability to agree. After you've
deliberated and discussed this case, each of you has the right and obligation to adhere to your
abiding beliefs. You have a right to stick to your belief. A trial jury is not a group where the majority
rules." [Note: After more than three decades of observing deliberations of jurors in mock trials, I am
convinced that it is almost impossible for a single right-minded juror to turn a wrong-headed
Expect to see some blank expressions. At any given time, some of the prospective jurors will not
be paying attention to the voir dire. Think back on your days in law school where attendance was
mandatory or to your childhood when mom and dad dragged you to church. We all know that it's not
easy to be attentive. Our minds wander. We reminisce. Erotic thoughts drift through our
consciousness. We daydream. We think about food. We ponder our relationships. The prospective
jurors in the audience will listen selectively during the voir dire process and, also, during the trial. We
listen to hear the words we want to hear, perhaps to insulate ourselves. Don't be surprised or
insulted when you see the empty faces. Bring the inattentive jurors into the fold by posing a question
to them or to the person sitting beside them.
Talk less, listen more. As a rule of thumb, try to construct your voir dire so that you talk no more
than 25% of the time and the prospective jurors talk the rest of the time. Work on developing
your critical listening skills. The most effective compliment you can pay a prospective juror is to ask
what s/he thinks about a subject and then listen, actually listen, to her/his answer.
Don't ever underestimate the collective intelligence of the American jury. There is an old
proverb that says, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American
people." If you believe that, don't apply it to American juries. Lawyers who underestimate the
collective wisdom of American jurors are probably going to lose. Look at it this way: Trial lawyers
are actors on the courtroom stage, and God, in the form of the jury, is the audience.
QUIK TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL JURY VOIR DIRE
Look good! The jurors will be grading your papers from the first moment they see you until the trial
is over. Everything you do must be done with the understanding that the trial is for the jurors, a group
of people you must persuade and move to action. That means that you must inspire trust. You must
appear sincere and honest. You must be likeable. You must persuade without being pushy.
Don't do it alone. Don't get bogged down in note taking. You need a colleague as a sidekick to
serve as your eyes and ears in the courtroom. You also need a young person with computer skills to
serve as your Internet information researcher. Put your sidekick in the jury box or on the other side
of the courtroom to serve as your eyes, ears, and note-taker. From the sideline position, your
sidekick can unobtrusively record information and observations, e.g., body language, facial
expressions, liaisons with other jurors, dress (Don't forget to look at their shoes and other stuff!),
about the venire members on the jury seating chart (The seating chart is discussed above in the
"Getting Ready" section of this monograph.). You will pour over this chart when you make your
selections for peremptory challenge. If you can find a good sidekick from among your lawyer friends,
spend little, if any, time taking notes yourself. You may want to write a code letter or number, e.g.,
from one to five, indicating your off-the-cuff assessment/evaluation beside the name of each person
you visit with. As to your Internet researcher, you should also have someone, perhaps a young
college or law student, who is computer knowledgeable to Google every one of the prospective
jurors, to check their membership in social networks and to run any available court records search
on them. Here's a list of names, Internet addresses, description/focus, and membership numbers of
most of the Social Networking Sites (SNS). Don't forget real estate and property records: With only
an address you can find free online Internet information on home location and value from real estate
companies such as Zillow. Realtor, Trulia. Also, local property appraisal records (1) (Here's mine in
Harris County, Texas.) showing home values for purposes of taxation are typically open and
searchable on the Internet.
Recognize the different types of questions:
Ask open-ended questions for receipt of information.
Pyramid. When probing for a challenge for cause:
First, ask very open-ended questions.
Then, ask leading questions.
Use short questions.
Avoid legalese. What sounds good in a law school code course or in a stiff legal moot court
argument to a gaggle of pointy-headed lawyers in black robes won't have the same meaning
to a red-blooded defense jury of "painters, plasterers, plumbers, printers, preachers, pipe fitters,
Don't use conclusory terms, e.g., "bias," "prejudice," "unfair." Most folks don't like being asked,
in a group of strangers, whether they are prejudiced, biased, and/or unfair.
Quite naturally, they won't give you a straight answer to that sort of question.
Listen - Listen - Listen!
Observe - Observe - Observe!
Ask follow-up questions.
Deal with harmful evidence and harmful attitudes. Discuss, don't hide.
Face the part of your case that scares you most. See Getting Ready above.
Make it interesting. Do that by letting the prospective jurors do most of the talking.
When you run into the loquacious juror who tries to monopolize the questioning and won't
let you get a word in edgewise, try to limit the juror to three or four answers.
Deal with the relevant issues.
Make the prospective jurors think.
Don't read from your list of prepared questions.
Don't accept silence. Probe without invading the juror's sense of privacy.
Try the old bromide: If you don't talk, you don't walk.
Ask the prospective juror who gives an abstract answer how the
answer will affect his judgment in the case.
Let the prospective jurors educate themselves. Don't preach.
Show your feelings without disclosing your negative judgment of values displayed by the jurors.
You can't ask jurors to reveal their inner feelings without being willing to show some of your own
Try to inspire trust. Do this by being honest with the prospective jurors. Tell the truth.
Don't hide the ball. Talk from your soul and gut.
Show 'em your eyes and hands!
Don't get too close to the bone on sensitive, highly personal, or embarrassing issues.
Wait and take such issues up at the bench out of the hearing of other venire members.
OBJECTING DURING THE VOIR DIRE
There are a number of things that litigators are not supposed to do in jury selection. There is
insufficient space here to review the exhaustive case law regarding improper voir dire, but let's
mention a few errors that you should be on the lookout for. You can object during voir dire. Indeed, it
is important to recognize that if you don't object to opposing counsel's misconduct during voir dire,
you waive any error for appeal. [Tip: Be certain that the voir dire is recorded, i.e., that a court
reporter is present and recording the voir dire proceedings. Make sure that you request it, that the
judge orders it, and that the court reporter is in place and ready to record when the voir dire begins.
If an error occurs and your valid objection is not recorded, there is no record to appeal from.]
Here is a list of a few objections you may make at the voir dire phase:
Being denied the opportunity to put a question - What if the court unduly prevents you from asking
an appropriate question? Your objection to the court's action should include an assertion that
"the court's ruling prevents me from being able to intelligently exercise your right to challenge for
cause and also from intelligently using our allotment of peremptory challenges." Ask to be allowed to
make an offer of proof as to what the prospective juror's answer would be.
Being hamstrung by the court unduly limiting the time for your voir dire questioning - What if the
court drastically limits the time allotted for voir dire? Your objection to the court's action should be
that it deprives you of the right to elicit information from the venirepersons that might indicate a
potential juror's inability to be impartial, fair, and truthful, and that it also deprives you of the right to
obtain the information you need to make intelligent use of the allotted peremptory challenges.
Asking a juror to prejudge the weight of evidence or the credibility of a witness.
Seeking an outcome determinative pledge or commitment to convict, acquit, or punish on a
hypothetical set of facts. [Note: It makes sense that lawyers should not be allowed to determine in
voir dire what a juror's verdict would be if a given set of facts were proven.Texas lawyers should be
aware of Standefer v. State, 59 S.W.3d 177 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001) indicating that an improper
"commitment" question occurs if one or more of the possible answers is that a prospective juror
would resolve or refrain from resolving an issue in the case on the basis of one or more facts
contained in the questions, e.g., a voir dire question seeking to determine whether any venireperson
would have an automatic predisposition to find a person guilty simply because he refused to take a
breath test. See also Medina v. State, not reported in S.W.3d, WL764444 (Tex. App. - Texarkana
2004); Gillespie, In Standefer v. State the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Clarifies the Role of
Commitment Questions in Jury Selection in Criminal Cases, 54 Baylor L. Rev. 581 (2002).(1)]
Seeking to pledge or commit the juror to a finding on the credibility of a witness.
Misstating the law.
Informing the prospective jurors of (inadmissible) evidence.
Informing the prospective juror of supposed personal knowledge of counsel concerning the disputed
Arguing factual inferences or legal conclusions.
Seating or excluding jurors in capital cases. [Space prevents any meaningful discussion of this
ground for objection, but here are a few cases to get you started in your research regarding
questioning of venirepersons in capital cases. Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968); Davis v.
Georgia, 429 U.S. 122 (1976); Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978); Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 3
(1980); Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 (1985); Turner v. Murray, 476 U.S. 28 (1986); Lockhart v.
McCree, 476 U.S. 162 (1986); Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168 (1986); McClesky v. Kemp, 481
U.S. 279 (1987); Gray v. Mississippi, 481 U.S. 648 (1987); Ross v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 81
(1988); Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719 (1992); Uttrecht v. Brown, 551 U.S. 1 (2007).
[For more on objections, see the CCJA Objection page.]
A FEW GENERAL DEFENSE VOIR DIRE QUESTIONS WHEN YOUR MIND GOES
You will find many trial practice books in your local law library that will provide you with a slough of
boilerplate questions for voir dire. The CCJA publication on Jury Deselection contains several
hundred sample questions for voir dire. Read the examples for ideas. With each trial, you will add to
your own notebook of sample questions. Here's a very brief sampling of the sort of questions you will
be collecting. Some of these questions, e.g., tattoos and piercings, are considerably more personal
than you may find comfortable asking in a group? Remember, before you start asking questions that
preload the people you may want to keep, ask the questions that will allow you to get rid of the folks
who are subject to legal challenge for cause or who need to be struck with peremptories.
(Stock Opening) May it please the Court. Your Honor, may I approach the jury?
(Stock Greeting) (Pause. Establish Z-glance eye contact with the panel.) Opposing counsel, ladies
and gentlemen of the jury, good morning (or good afternoon). (Don't say "morning" if it's afternoon.)
(Introduction of Yourself and Your Client) As Judge (name the judge) told you, my name is (state
your name). I've been a lawyer here is town for (state the period of time). It will be my honor and
privilege of speaking to you in this case on behalf of (name your client). (Name your client) would
you please stand. [Note: When you introduce your client, it is often advisable to position yourself
close to the client, perhaps touching him on the shoulder or arm. You can walk over to the client at
counsel table for the introduction and stand behind him/her or, if you have him/her stand, beside
him/her. As an alternative, you might have your client come to where you are in the courtroom (It will
usually be closer to the jury and will give the jurors an opportunity to see the defendant in full figure.)
and stand beside you as you introduce him/her. You will need to alert the client prior to the trial that