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Article by Dr. Amy Singer for TortSource's Practice Management Column, Aug 00 (498 words)
Voir dire and jury deliberations definitely are interrelated. That's why you should bring the deliberations into the courtroom via voir dire before the trial begins. Gather information about prospective jurors and bond with them while discussing the problem areas of your case. Your main goal is to predict juror behavior. How can you achieve it? By asking questions that reveal WHY jurors feel the way they do. Consider the following nine types of questions, which I developed for valid voir dire.
Determine a juror's case disposition and whether that juror should be de-selected due to preconceived bias to a problem area of your case. For instance, if a juror responds negatively to your open-ended question, What are your thoughts or feelings about someone who has two glasses of wine and then drives? you can use a preemptory challenge to remove that juror from the panel.
Reveal juror responses to abstract issues, such as pain and suffering. Asking, Why is it important to compensate someone for pain and suffering? more effectively plants in jurors' minds a favorable idea to your case than commanding, You would agree . . . Record juror comments carefully; then, restate those comments in your closing statement to hook the jurors.
Teach without sounding uppity when cases involve legal or complex matters. Asking, Someone who commits murder during an episode of insanity is not guilty by reason of insanity. What's your opinion? clearly outmaneuvers the condescending Do you understand . . .?
Make the jurors, not yourself, look good; make them like you. Ask, for example, What is your occupation? and then reply, That sounds interesting. Thank jurors for their input and avoid being patronizing.
Fix a bad answer (for the opposition) by your friendly juror and make the opposition use a preemptory strike instead of giving the opposition the chance to eliminate the person for cause, by saying something like: You stated that you once had a bad experience with a police officer; are you going to hold that against all police officers?
Have jurors with unchangeable pre-conceived notions? Close-ended Cause questions will reveal bias against your case and provide argument to strike for cause. For instance: You stated that you don't trust police officers. Is this opinion likely to change in the next week? The juror replies, No. You then say, Thank you for your honesty. Keep at it until it is obvious and you get . . .
To cause a juror to commit to his earlier biased statement, restate his comment in close-ended question form, and let him talk uninterruptedly while nodding your head as if in agreement; then, remove him for cause. Similarly, identify other jurors' related biases by asking, How many of you agree . . . and have them removed for cause.
Fake-out questions can make the opposition think that something non-essential is important enough to use a preemptory challenge.
Sensitize jurors early on to negative aspects of your case. Avoid excessive detail; mention issues, concepts, and prejudices rather than facts.
Next time you're preparing a case for the courtroom, employ these nine types of questions to master voir dire.
Dr. Amy Singer, president/CEO of The Singer Companies, including Trial Consultants, Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is a noted author, lecturer, and expert on jury psychology.