A jury trial begins with the selection of the jury. This phase is referred to as “voir dire,” a French phrase whose Latin origin means “to say what is true.” During voir dire, the members of the jury pool take an oath to truthfully answer the questions posed by the attorneys and the presiding judge. The prospective jurors who comprise the jury pool are questioned about their backgrounds and beliefs as well as their life experiences in order to determine if they are able to serve as impartial jurors in light of the facts and issues of the case.
The legal purpose of voir dire is to determine if any of the jurors are biased to any of the issue in the case for which they are being considered. For example, a juror who has been the victim of a violent crime might be unable to be impartial in an armed robbery case. Additionally, the voir dire process is designed to uncover other facts that might disqualify a prospective juror from serving on a jury. For example, a prospective juror who has personal knowledge of the facts of the case or is acquainted with the parties, witnesses or attorneys may be unable to serve as an impartial juror. In such an instance, the judge will usually excuse the juror for cause.
As a matter of strategy, attorneys utilize voir dire to assess the personalities and beliefs of the prospective jurors in order to determine the likelihood that they will be sympathetic to the facts of their side of the case. The attorneys have a certain number of peremptory strikes to remove jurors who they deem to be unsympathetic to the facts of their case. At the conclusion of voir dire and after the removal of any jurors for cause, the attorneys utilize their strikes to remove jurors who they have concluded to be unfavorable to their case. After both sides have exercised their strikes, the remaining jurors constitute the jury. In most instances, alternate jurors are also selected to serve in the event that any of the jurors become unable to serve during the trial.
The jury selection process is a critical phase of a criminal or a civil trial, and one that is riddled with legal hurdles and trial strategy.