By John DiMotto
When it comes to the jury trial, I believe that jury selection may be the most important, and overlooked, phase of the trial. A good voir dire can reveal "character" aspects that a lawyer may find helpful or a hindred to his/her cause.
People called to jury service want to do the right thing. However, they are told that they should use their common sense and long experiences in life in evaluating the evidence. Since every person is different you will have twelve individuals with twelve different life experiences and potentially twelve views of the evidence. A carefully crafted voir dire is essential.
I have a Twitter account. I follow a few sites that are devoted to Jury matters. A terrific one is Deliberations, by Anne Willis Reed. Another on that is excellent is Jury Talk. Another is The Jury Expert. Another is blawgreview. They find interesting articles and vignettes from jury cases. Reading these articles can be invaluable to a lawyer's voir dire preparation.
One caveat when it comes to jury selection: Know Your Judge!
There are judges who will totally control the content of the questioning in order to prevent a lawyer from tainting the panel. There are judges who will not allow the lawyers to do any questioning but, rather, they must submit questions to the judge who will ask them. There are judges who will give the lawyers great leeway and latitude in asking questions. I fit in the final category. I believe it is important to let lawyers communicate with the jury panel so they can effectively use cause strikes as well as peremptory challenges.
From my perspective, not only is voir dire one of the most important phases of the jury trial, it is the most interesting and fascinating. It also is the one phase where the judge can impress on the jury how awesome their responsibility is to the case, parties and community so that there will not be juror misconduct -- intentional or accidental - during the trial.
Finally, if you really care about your community and the integrity of the law -- look forward to being called to jury duty. It is not a burden but a privilege.