Streamlining jury duty

by Walter Olson on January 23, 2009

I made a few favorable remarks about streamlining jury-selection (voir dire) procedure the other day, Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett expressed an emphatically contrary view that “Streamlining of the justice system will be the death of freedom,” and several others weighed in, including SSFC (Patrick). Many of the posts are memorialized at Nicole Black’s Legal Tweets. It was also agreed (in posts not included) that civil and criminal jury selection raised at least somewhat different issues.

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Simple Justice
01.23.09 at 6:45 am

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1 Brat Magursky 01.23.09 at 8:57 am

based on my occupational experience with this topic (a courtroom court clerk) i have this take on voir dire…it is nothing more than jury tampering & it starts long before selection. Attorneys will ask for a jury list weeks before trial & start their initial selection before a jury pool even reports to the courthouse. Voir Dire should be the sole function of the court as a way to eliminate any obvious conflicts of interest with jurors (i.e employees of a company who is a party in a suit). The over bearing prying into the feelings and socio-political views of jurors & the weeding out of those with unfavorable or un-popular views makes this jury tampering. As a juror, I would take offense to my being honest about the way I feel then in turn being deemed unsuitable to serve on a jury. Last time I checked we have the right to a trial by a jury of peers, not a jury of peers whose views would be favorable to my side of the story. As a lawyer acquintance of mine once told me…the problem with jurors is you are dealing with 12 people who don’t have the common sense to get get out of jury duty…..

2 Peter 01.23.09 at 2:27 pm

I would like to tempt the fates by here stating that in the middle of the 4th decade of life, I have never been called to jury duty…though out of curiosity I would like to, just once. I vote, have a driver’s license, and apparently am a fair target to be called. However, the only time I have been called was over ten years ago, weeks after I moved out of my former state of residence.

Bring it, Gods of Civic Duty!! I taunt thee!

3 Ron Miller 01.23.09 at 2:51 pm

In Maryland, “streamlined” voir dire would be an improvement. We have the most restrictive voir dire I believe in the country. Both plaintiffs and defendants hate it.

4 David Townsend 01.24.09 at 8:18 am

England and Wales got rid of preemptory challenge in criminal cases about 20 years ago. You can still challenge jurors for cause but that is all. I do not know of anyone who would want to bring it back, except for those people who got out of jury duty by wearing a suit.

5 SSFC 01.24.09 at 5:32 pm

I’ve picked a civil jury or two, and have no problem with the standard model of peremptories and cause. Most judges hurry the process along, but peremptories at least allow one to remove complete idiots and the poisonous from the pool. I agree with Mark Bennett, a criminal lawyer whose clients are very different from my own, that voir dire is also another opportunity, for both sides, to educate the jury about the case and the law.

http://bennettandbennett.com/blog/2009/01/worst-jury-selection-advice-ever-dont-listen.html

One of the worst jury pools I ever had was one from a southern college town in which it seemed that every other venireman came from the sociology department, or the English department, or was into alternative medicine and holistic religion or something. Trying a case on fibromyalgia (a medically dubious and scientifically controversial diagnosis), believe me, I was glad to get rid of the herbal shamans on the panel.

6 Dennis Elias 01.28.09 at 1:26 pm

The notion that voir dire constitutes “tampering” is offensive as it is clearly a gross misunderstanding of the rights of the litigants and the accused to a fair trial. Years of research and practical experience has confirmed that many potential jurors are so invested in prejudicial attitudes that to eschew an indepth exploration prior to seating is tantamount to denying the accused or litigants a “fair and impartial” panel. Voir dire, while often done lamely, is a bulwark that deserves support, endorsement and improvement. None of which stipulates the end of peremptory strikes. Want a better voir dire? Skill the lawyers. Practice voir dire with focus groups. Justice is neither pretty nor simple. Neither are juror attitudes. Protect voir dire and do it well.

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