3 Benefits of Treating Voir Dire Like a Focus Group
Some trial attorneys like to discuss how cases are won and lost during voir dire. While jury selection is one of the most important parts of a trial, the methodology for assessing jurors to help compose the optimal jury may differ from what many attorneys assume.
While demographics are frequently the go-to determiner for many trial attorneys during voir dire and often the easiest metric to identify, selecting a jury based solely on demographics alone is not a practice that attorneys should follow. Instead, trial attorneys should treat voir dire more like a focus group, digging deeper into juror responses to see the greatest benefits.
What is the biggest thing to avoid when picking a jury?
Demographics are notoriously not predictive of juror behavior, verdict outcomes, or the amount of damages. Rather than demographics, attitudes, beliefs, experiences, and personality types more accurately predict and influence juror behavior.
Benefit #1 - Drawing Out the Quiet Jurors
While there will always be those who like to talk and are eager to share their opinions, there will also be those who will do their best to stay quiet, sit in the back, and hope to hide. It’s not that these quiet potential jurors have nothing to say; it may simply be that they are afraid to talk, which shouldn’t be surprising as many people often rank public speaking as their number one fear. Without these individuals voluntarily responding to questions, it becomes the responsibility of the trial attorney to draw these people out and compel them to talk.
When a trial attorney can shift from asking short, close ended questions and instead begins running voir dire more like a focus group, it becomes likely that more people will start to feel comfortable, and even those who tend to be quiet will become more vocal. Then, once these previously quiet potential jurors become more vocal and provide more information, trial attorneys can listen, take notes, and evaluate these individuals. Without this encouragement, there are likely to be several jurors who will feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions.
Benefit #2 - Identifying Problematic Jurors
Trial attorneys should not be afraid to ask follow-up or additional questions during voir dire. This is the time for the trial attorney to continue to probe more, getting the juror to explain their thoughts and beliefs. Yet, far too often, trial attorneys leave juror responses alone that are problematic, harmful, or call for a cause strike. For example, the potential juror may raise their hand when asked if they have a sympathetic personality. Still, the trial attorney may simply thank them for their answer and move on to the next question rather than asking additional questions.
Instead, trial attorneys benefit when they can get jurors talking, as it is when they start sharing their experiences that highlight their attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs. Then, as potential jurors are talking, trial attorneys should ideally be taking notes so that if the time comes when a trial attorney wants to strike a juror for cause, the attorney can quote verbatim to the judge, citing specific, detailed information as to why they are challenging that specific juror.
However, trial attorneys should also remember that many potential jurors may be inclined to give attorneys more socially desirable answers, particularly when asked difficult or sensitive questions. They may try to deliver responses that make them sound better, offering half-truths if they know their full opinion may reflect poorly on them. When possible, trial attorneys should try to use a supplemental juror questionnaire that can allow for responses that the other potential jurors do not see to glean additional insight.
Benefit #3 - Persuading Potential Jurors to Hold Each Other Accountable
One of the court's goals of voir dire is to obtain a fair and impartial jury, and a component of that is trusting that the jurors will follow the judge's instructions during deliberations. Specifically, trial attorneys want to ascertain that the jurors can remain fair and impartial during deliberations. What the defense attorney doesn’t want to happen is for one juror to succumb to sympathy for the plaintiff and then let sympathy play into the jury’s overall decision-making.
During voir dire, defense attorneys have an opportunity to not only emphasize to potential jurors that they will need to put emotions such as sympathy, bias, and prejudice aside when they are deciding this case but also to get them to agree to hold each other accountable to that standard as well. This gives each juror permission to stand up to one another and remind each other that they agreed that they would remain fair and impartial during their deliberations and only look at the case facts.
Courtroom Sciences knows that a juror’s belief systems, attitudes, and emotions are most likely to predict the outcome at trial. Our jury consulting services deliver the most predictive jury assessment programs, helping trial attorneys uncover pre-existing biases to compose the optimal jury. Speak with one of our experts to get started.
● Demographics are notoriously not predictive of juror behavior, verdict outcomes, or the amount of damages.
● Trial attorneys should treat voir dire more like a focus group, digging deeper into juror responses to see the greatest benefits.
● Three benefits of treating voir dire like a focus group include drawing out quiet jurors, identifying potentially problematic jurors, and persuading jurors to hold one another accountable during deliberations.
● Courtroom Sciences’ jury consulting services help trial attorneys uncover pre-existing biases to compose the optimal jury.
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