This content has been reviewed by Jason D. Stone
Pronounced “vwar deer,” voir dire is the process of selecting a fair and impartial jury. During voir dire, lawyers from both sides ask potential jury members questions to ascertain whether they can keep an open mind during a trial. The judge also asks questions of members of the jury pool to determine competence and suitability. Voir dire is also used to determine if expert witnesses are qualified to provide testimony.
From the French phrase meaning, “To speak the truth,” voir dire is essential to ensure that your case is heard by members of the community who can make a sound decision based on the evidence. However, if there are mistakes made during this process or there is evidence of bias by one side against particular members of the jury, this could be grounds for an appeal.
In Massachusetts, attorney-directed voir dire in Superior Court was not introduced until 2014. Before 2014, attorneys relied on a juror questionnaire and the judge to determine the best-placed witnesses for a trial. With attorney-directed voir dire, lawyers can now use the time to uncover potential biases and seat a fair and impartial jury.
Why Is Voir Dire Important?
If you’ve been called for jury duty, you’ve probably sat in a room of 50 or more people. In Massachusetts, you fill out an extensive questionnaire before reporting for jury duty. The judge and attorneys use this document to narrow down potential jurors for their case.
Previously, attorneys had to depend on the judge to make the right decision on whom to choose for their client’s trial. In civil cases, plaintiffs and defendants hoped the jurors had the education and experience to understand the laws and didn’t hold a bias toward a doctor in a medical malpractice case or toward dog owners in a dog bite claim.
For years, law experts fought within the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA) for voir dire in the Commonwealth. Many other states have successfully utilized voir dire for years, allowing attorneys to examine jurors to uncover hidden biases in civil and criminal cases.
In addition to finding fair and impartial jurors, voir dire provides benefits for both sides, such as:
- Develops a rapport with the jury
- Begins to educate jurors about the respective theories of the case
- Showcases attorneys as hardworking professionals they can trust
- Highlights the importance of jury service as a duty to the system of law
If attorneys discover evidence of bias or a compromising position in a juror, they can request the juror be excused. Each attorney has a certain number of peremptory challenges to request for jurors to be excused. The final jury can be composed of any number less than 12 in Superior Court, or less than six in District Court, and up to four alternates.
What Are Some Common Questions Asked in Voir Dire?
Jurors are asked important questions under oath during voir dire. If they lie under oath and it is revealed later, they can face contempt of court and perjury charges, highlighting the seriousness of their replies. Some of the questions attorneys and trial judges may ask include:
- Do you know the plaintiff, defendant, attorneys, witnesses, or judge? If so, how?
- At this point, the judge may decide that even if the potential juror says they can remain impartial, their connection may cause a conflict of interest and, later, a mistrial or an overturning of the verdict on appeal.
- Do you have a vested interest in the outcome of this trial?
- Do you have prior knowledge of this case, and have you formed an opinion on it?
- Do you have any prior experiences, involvement, or prejudices that could create bias?
- Do you have a valid reason why you cannot serve as a juror on this trial?
- The judge may accept or dismiss jurors based on these reasons.
The judge may permit attorneys to follow up on certain lines of questioning.
What Does Voir Dire Mean for Your Personal Injury Case?
In civil trials, the burden of proof is much less than a criminal trial. The majority of jurors must decide in your favor or against you, and they determine the amount of damages you receive. It’s essential that your case is heard by a jury of your peers who can sift through the evidence and provide a fair decision based on the law.
Your Boston personal injury lawyers at Jason Stone Injury Lawyers can help you build a strong case and use strategies like voir dire to seat a jury you can count on. Contact our professional team for more information or a free consultation about your personal injury case.