What Is Voir Dire And How Does It Work?

The criminal justice system provides any number of useful and vital protections for people accused of crimes, and being judged by a jury of your peers is one of the important protections. If you or a loved one is now dealing with the justice system, you might become interested in the trial and jury process like never before. Jury selection procedures are not mysterious, nor are they meant to be performed in secret. You may hear jury selection activity referred to by its legal name – voir dire. Read on and find out how juries are chosen before a criminal trial.

A Jury of Your Peers

The definition of "peer" for jury purposes has nothing to do with who your friends are. Instead, this word is intended to differentiate those chosen for a jury from professionals, officials, royalty, and other persons of perceived elevated status. It simply means that ordinary people make up a jury. In most cases, those called for jury duty are done so by voter's roles or by driver's licenses. The jurors must be from the area covered by the court that is conducting the trial. That might be a district of the state, a county, or another geographical area. Jurors cannot be convicted felons and must exhibit sound mental and physical health. Those who can show good cause are excused from the process. The following are examples of these people:

  • Those with small children and no childcare.
  • Those mentally unable to attend to the task.
  • The elderly and those with physical conditions that are severe enough to affect their sitting on a panel.
  • Those with nonrefundable tickets to an event or for travel.
  • Those with scheduled surgeries and those taking important exams.
  • Those with major events like a wedding (just being a guest won't get you released).

It should be mentioned that if you are excused this time, your name may again be called in the future if your excuse was of a temporary nature.

The Venire Proceeds

After the pool has been narrowed down somewhat, the actual ferreting out of the jury begins. The jurors are questioned, or they might be asked to fill out a questionnaire. The attorneys for both sides have a stake in choosing jurors they think will be sympathetic to their side. Demographics are used along with the opinion of a juror on certain case issues. For example, in a case where the death penalty is on the table, a potential jury member might be asked about their opinion on that.

As the accused or a family member of the accused, you may be entitled to be present during the voir dire and venire process, and the opportunity should not be missed. To find out more about how jury selection might affect a case, speak to a criminal defense attorney.