The legal system, at both the state and federal levels, can be complex. A Louisianan facing criminal charges may be in unfamiliar territory, and there may be many new and unfamiliar terms that a criminal defendant hears as his or her case develops. One of those terms may be “voir dire.”
Voir dire is a process that occurs in a criminal trial through which a lawyer asks potential jurors questions in order to narrow the jury pool and to help determine who will ultimately serve on a jury. A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to have potential jurors questioned by his or her lawyer.
The premise behind questioning potential jurors is to obtain a fair and impartial jury. For example, a lawyer for a defendant can ask questions that may reveal that a potential juror is biased toward the victim, or someone like the victim. If such bias is revealed or suspected, a lawyer can remove this person from the jury so that a defendant has the best chance of facing a pool of jurors who are not evaluating a case with a background of bias. Voir dire is a French term that means “to speak the truth,” and lawyers will be trying to get this truth from potential jurors.
In a federal case, if the death penalty is on the line, there are two phases of voir dire. There will be an initial voir dire phase and then a second “death qualification” phase in which jurors who will not consider recommending the death sentence may be excused by the prosecutors, if they so choose.
Voir dire is just one of many steps that may be necessary as a case proceeds to trial. With so many complicated processes, a defendant may wish to seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney for guidance regarding questions about voir dire and other legal issues.
Source: Louisiana Law Review, “Jury Selection; Law and Practice,” accessed Feb. 12, 2016