What To Expect in Voir Dire

Voir dire (which is pronounced vwah dear) is a legal term that refers to a series of procedures related to jury trials in our legal system. It is one of the primary tools that attorneys from both sides use to make certain that only jurors who are qualified serve on a trial jury. The process can sometimes also refer to the initial questioning of witnesses to determine whether they are qualified to testify.

Jurors are generally qualified if they are over the age of 18 years old; read, speak and understand the English language; are a resident of the District or County where the court sits; if they are not related to or have a business relationship with the parties or lawyers; and if they are able to physically and mentally sit and listen to the evidence. People with certain disabilities (such as hearing or sight issues) may request accommodation for that disability in order to be able to participate as a juror. Finally, in order to be qualified, a juror cannot have formed or expressed an unqualified opinion or belief as to the merits of the action, nor can a juror serve who has a state of mind that shows bias to either party. This last qualification is where most attorneys spend their time during jury selection.

Voir dire typically begins after the judge has briefly explained the nature of the case and has introduced the lawyers and parties from both sides. Attorneys may ask jurors what their thoughts and feelings are about some of the issues that are related to the case. For instance, in a case where a homeowner is suing a homebuilder for negligent construction, the attorneys may ask jurors whether they own their own homes or have dealt with a homebuilder in the past. Prospective jurors should know that there are no correct or incorrect answers to these questions; jurors take an oath to answer honestly so that the attorneys can help determine if there is some legal reason for someone not to serve.

Attorneys can dismiss as many jurors as they want if there is a question of a juror’s qualifications. Attorneys are also able to dismiss a limited number of jurors without giving a reason: these are called peremptory challenges. Neither reason for dismissal is a reflection on a juror’s intelligence or character, but they help to ensure that the parties will have a fair trial.

In general, both sides will have a set amount of time to conduct voir dire of the jury, and after that time they will work together to identify the jurors needed for the trial, as well as identify alternate jurors, who may need to step in to serve on a jury in the case of emergency, illness, etc. Once the sides agree on a jury and alternates, the judge will dismiss the additional jurors, and the trial will move on to the next phase.

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