What Is Voir Dire In A Criminal Case?
Voir Dire is basically the process through which the defense attorney and the prosecutor pick a jury in a criminal case. The day of the trial for a criminal defendant in Los Angeles, the court will basically bring a number of jurors to the courtroom. Usually, it’s about fifty or sixty depending on availability of jurors. Once the jurors are there, the judge will read opening instructions to them. See who’s available to do the case and who cannot do the case and then will start the process of Voir Dire in a criminal case in Los Angeles. Basically, that’s asking questions of the jurors to determine if they are fair and unbiased and can sit on the jury.
First the judge will ask his or her general questions and then typically, as of today – and I’ve been doing this twenty-five years, this has changed – but as of today they do give the defense and the determined is whether or not each juror can sit on the case, whether they can be fair and trying to give the jurors an understanding of how the law works and what their responsibilities are going to be if they’re chosen on the jury.
During the Voir Dire the attorneys will ask questions really aimed at getting a feel for who the jurors are to see, for the defense, if they would be fair to the criminal defendant in the case, and for the prosecution to determine whether they would be fair to the people of the state of California in them prosecuting the criminal case against the defendant.
The Voir Dire serves a number of purposes. One, if done effectively, as a defense attorney, I’m able to see what individuals might be good jurors to sit on this particular case because I’ll know what the issues are in the case. I’ll know what the prosecutors are going to have to prove and I’ll know the type of jurors that I want on the case. Sometimes during Voir Dire, I’ll be asking a juror questions and I’m going to have a good feel that that juror would be a good fit for the jury. Other times, I’m going to have a feel that that juror may be pro-prosecution and I’m going to be not wanting that juror on the case.
A lot of times what I ask during the Voir Dire is whether or not any of the jurors thought my client was guilty when they walked into the courtroom. If the answer is yes, that juror may not be the best juror for the defense. I’ll probably ask them some more questions, but I’ll also take that as an opportunity during the Voir Dire to really zero-in on the fact that there’s a presumption of innocence in any criminal trial, especially in Los Angeles, California, and that if they were asked to vote now they would have to vote not guilty because they haven’t heard any of the evidence. Unless the evidence points to guilt, they must find the defendant in a criminal case not guilty. So, that’s one very effective thing that can be accomplished in Voir Dire to kind of set up the rules of how things work and to really get a feel of whether or not this juror may have some bias towards your client.
Also, I want to find out about the juror. I’m able to ask questions, so I ask them about themselves and certain issues. Let’s say if guns are going to be talked about in this particular trial. During the Voir Dire, I’m going to ask them their feeling on guns – what they believe and I’m going to see how that plays up against my client’s criminal rights and how that plays up against a theory that we have in the case and how whether this particular juror is going to be fair or not.
In the end, the bottom line is when I’m trying to pick a jury, I want to make sure that when I get my chance to ask questions during the Voir Dire, and when the prosecutor asks questions and when the judge asks questions, I’m able to get a feel for the type of jurors we’re dealing with. The key thing is, of course I want jurors that are going to be sympathetic to my client, but also, I want jurors that are going to be fair. Because if I have a good argument, then during the Voir Dire, I should be able to figure out whether the particular juror that’s being asked questions is going to be fair, and in the end, there’s going to be twelve jurors picked during the Voir Dire and maybe two or three alternates. They’re all going to be sworn in and then the trial will start, and obviously, I’m going to be trying to show the jury that my client is not guilty.
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