Do Jurors Get “Poisoned” During Voir Dire?
Attorneys are often worried about asking questions in voir dire that elicit responses that are harmful to your side of the case. For example, I hear plaintiffs attorneys worry about asking questions regarding tort reform because they are afraid that jurors will start talking about costs of insurance rising and how lawsuits are chasing doctors out of town. The fear is that these comments will taint the neutral or good jurors.
My suggestion is not to worry about poisoning jurors on the panel. Your role in voir dire is to elicit information and you certainly want to hear the bad comments so you can dismiss bad jurors. Jurors who are favorable to you will not change their opinions simply because a stranger sitting next to them spouts off opposing viewpoints. If a person holds a fairly well ingrained opinion, they have formed that opinion based on their life experiences. That opinion has already been challenged by media, friends, and family. An hour-long voir dire (if you’re lucky to even get the much time) will not change their opinions. If a juror is neutral on a matter or has not formed any deeply rooted opinions on the topic, they may be swayed by what other jurors say but not to the point of danger to you. Their opinions will not have been ingrained and they can be easily swayed back to your side during trial.
The most important things to remember during voir dire are:
1. You should listen much more than you talk. This is a time for you to gather information, not feed jurors facts about your case or try to start convincing them.
2. You need to appear as non-lawyerly as possible. Jurors hate attorneys and this is your first impression. Do not under any circumstances argue with a juror about their opinion or try to change it. You will alienate yourself from the rest of the panel, including your good jurors.
3. Bring out those bad facts and get jurors to commit to their opinions solidly if they are bases for cause challenges. That will give you a much better chance at removing more of the bad jurors and ending up with neutral or favorable jurors who will then appreciate your openness to different attitudes and trust you more as you begin to present your case.