Voir dire is one of the most important aspects of any trial. Many attorneys feel that jury selection is the single most significant procedure in the entire trial process. The purpose of voir dire questioning is to obtain a fair and impartial jury. The selection process in which prospective jurors are questioned and challenged for bias can turn out to be a battle of wits and maneuvering more dramatic than the trial itself. The primary purpose of voir dire is to provide attorneys with enough information about prospective jurors to make intelligent use of peremptory challenges.
It is nothing less than the process that permits you to find the audience that will be most receptive to your case. (Bernstein 1995) But the lawyers aren’t the only participants who learn something during voir dire. While you are busy eliciting information from prospective jurors during voir dire, the jurors are rapidly picking up clues about you and your case. They are formulating impressions of the merits of your client’s case and your own credibility, competence and trustworthiness. If your voir dire is haphazard or half-hearted, jurors will undoubtedly draw negative inferences about you and your client’s case.
(Scheffey 1999) Voir dire can thus be a highly productive process, providing a wealth of information for making astute challenge decisions – and laying the foundation for your case – or it can be a disastrous waste of time. Effective voir dire and jury selection require careful preparation. This article reviews the pretrial preparation techniques that can help you to develop voir dire and jury selection strategies that will help you to pick the best audience for your case and to give that audience the right impressions. (Bernstein 1995)
The most fundamental aspect of planning an effective voir dire is to develop a set of appropriate questions for the prospective jurors. This is no time to resort to a list of canned questions that may or may not be relevant to your case. An excellent starting point for developing your questions is to list your case themes. All of your questions should in some way aim to elicit responses that tell you which prospective jurors will be favorably disposed to your case – and which ones you should strike from the panel. (Bernstein 1995)
Social psychologists regard voir dire as a self-disclosure interview during which an interviewer is seeking information from interviewees about their history, attitudes, and beliefs. Research has consistently demonstrated that self-disclosure on the part of the interviewer leads to greater self-disclosure from the interviewee. People do not readily reveal their thoughts about sensitive topics to strangers. Instead, they reveal themselves to those who have disclosed to them; they “reciprocate,” hence the phenomenon known as the “reciprocity effect.
” People seem to feel compelled to respond in kind to another’s self-disclosure. This principle is often neglected during voir dire. (Bernstein 1995) Forensic psychologists are perhaps most commonly recognized for their involvement in the processing a crime scene. Psychologists provide Courts with analysis relevant to questions of criminal insanity and trial competence. They help courts decide whether se[ offenders are likely to re-offend or whether they are dangerous.
They provide information and recommendations necessary for sentencing purposes, grants of probation, and the formulation of conditions of parole. Forensic psychologists are routinely called upon in death penalty cases to provide analysis of the intentions, motivations and personality characteristics of the accused. In the juvenile courts, they often are asked to help determine whether a youthful offender can be rehabilitated. They assist prosecutors, defenders, and law enforcement investigators in understanding a range of normal and criminal behaviors, sometimes serving as «criminal profilers”. (Scheffey 1999)