How voir dire helps ensure you get a fair trial

A criminal trial is a complicated process with many moving parts. There is the defendant, the defense attorney, the prosecutor, the judge, witnesses and evidence — and the jury.

The jury is supposed to be a group of your peers from the community who can examine the evidence and arguments the lawyers will present objectively and without bias. In reality, everyone has conscious and unconscious biases that affect their judgment and how they perceive the world. Some people’s opinions and prejudices are more severe than others, to the point that they cannot judge the criminal charges against you fairly. With such people on the jury, you have very little chance of a fair trial.

Fortunately, you and your defense attorney do not have to accept the first 11 people who showed up for jury duty to serve on your jury. Before the trial begins, there is the jury selection process, which includes voir dire. This legal term refers to the right of the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge to question potential jurors to decide if they are suitable for the case.

When conducting voir dire of the jury pool, your lawyer generally should be looking for three things:

  • Background. Is there anything in the potential juror’s background that could affect their judgment at trial? Things like the person’s education, job history, and television viewing habits can all be relevant.
  • Experiences. Did the person experience anything similar to the facts of the case? Were they ever the victim of a crime or accused of a crime related to the charges in the case against you?
  • Beliefs and values. Does the potential juror have strong opinions about people of your sex, race, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation? What do they think of the police and the legal system? How would these beliefs affect how they serve on the jury, if selected?

By carefully (and politely) questioning each potential juror, your attorney can identify the ones who would not make impartial members of the jury. The lawyer can then challenge their inclusion in the jury for things like bias or prejudice against you or having apparently already made up their mind that you are guilty. This is an important part of the criminal defense representation process.

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