Jury Management = Trial Success
Beyond closing arguments, my trial experience has taught me that jury instructions and voire dire are probably the most important aspect of civil and criminal trials in state and federal courts. This stems from the simple fact that, the more complex a case, the less likely a jury member will be to remember the information presented. However, the more inclined a juror is to listen to one side or the other, the more likely that juror will be to vote in favor of the preferenced party.
How do you manage the voire dire process? This article is specific to the District of Columbia Court system. It is based on voire dire from the Bench - that is, the judge asks the jury "yes/no" questions based on a predefined set of questions. Prior to trial, it is the duty of the defense (plaintiff and prosecutor, too!) to submit proposed jury questions to the judge for consideration. Generally, the question must fit within the frame work of the general questions asked in Superior Court.
Sample Superior Court Civil Jury Instructions (DC)
- 1. Do you know or recognize any of the lawyers, the parties, the witnesses, the judge, or court staff?
- 2. Do you know anything about this particular case?
- 3. Do you or any immediate family member live or work near or have any special familiarity with the Dunkin Donuts at 1101 4th Street NW or the immediate area where this case is alleged to have occurred?
- 4. Do you know any other member of the jury panel?
- 5. Have you ever previously served on a jury in any type of case?
- 6. Have you ever been a party to or involved in a lawsuit?
- 7. Have you ever testified as a witness in any trial?
- 8. Have you or any immediate family member ever studied or been employed in the legal field?
- 9. Have you or any immediate family member ever been trained or employed in any type of health care services?
- 10. Have you or any immediate family member ever worked in the area of claims adjustment?
- 11. Have you or any immediate family member ever witnessed, been involved in, or sustained personal injuries in a slip and fall?
- 12. Have you or an immediate family member ever served on a corporate board?
- 13. Have you or any immediate family member ever made a claim for personal injuries; OR filed, defended, or been a witness in a lawsuit involving a claim for personal injuries?
- 14. Do you have strong feelings about personal injury cases and lawsuits in general that might affect your judgment in this case?
- 15. Do you hold any convictions or beliefs concerning lawyers, judges, or the legal system that would impair your ability to fairly decide this case?
- 16. Would you be unable to follow the Court’s instructions or render judgment in this case due to religious, moral, political, or philosophical beliefs?
- 17. Do you have any type of personal health problem or are you taking medication that would make it difficult to serve on the jury?
- 18. This trial will take approximately 4 days plus deliberations. Do you have important and/or pressing time commitments/conflicts that would make it difficulHave you or anyone in your family ever been “labeled” in an unpopular way?t for you to serve on this jury?
- 19. Is there any other reason you could not be fair and impartial?
Other common jury instructions I use in civil trials:
(NOTE: I do not submit these questions in advance, as DC does not allow open ended jury questions. Instead, ask these when you are standing at the bench and the judge asks if there is anything else you would like inquire about)
- Tell me a little about the neighborhood you live in.
- What type of work do you do?
- Do you supervise other people? How many” How do you feel about supervising other people?
- Does anyone have current work related projects that are going to occupy your mind to the extent that you wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the evidence that will be presented in this trial?
- Does your spouse work outside the home?
- How much TV do you watch? What are your favorite shows?
- Have you or anyone in your family ever been “labeled” in an unpopular way?
Vary the questions above based on whether the juror answered "yes" to any of the generic questions proposed by the judge. If the juror answered "yes" to none, you must ask further questions to ensure you can form an opinion about the juror!
Remember, in DC, there are no jury questionnaires. Although, you may ask for an exception to this rule in felony or capital cases. See Rule 24 of the Criminal Rules of the District of Columbia.
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