The first set of questions you will ask in a jury trial that involves paralysis injuries may involve whether any of the potential jurors know your client or the defendant, any of the witnesses in the case, the attorneys, or the judge, or if any of the jurors have heard anything about the case. This kind of knowledge usually eliminates an individual from sitting on the jury, since they may have preconceived notions about the case. In our jury system, it is considered undesirable for jurors to have such notions.
The attorneys inquire during voir dire into the background and attitudes of each potential juror. It may feel like these questions are intended to invade the individual’s privacy, but this is not so. The questions are asked so the attorneys can assess how the individual will view the paralysis injury case. Plaintiffs’ lawyers desire jury members who are sympathetic to accident victims, and the insurance company’s lawyer wants just the opposite.
For example, you may ask if there is anyone who has been sued for personal injuries involving paralysis, and, if so, if that experience created feelings of resentment against people who file personal injury lawsuits. You will strike anyone who feels that way.
You may also ask if anyone on the panel works for an insurance company. This question serves a double purpose. First, people employed by insurance companies tend not to be especially sympathetic to accident victims. Second, you may be simply trying to communicate to the potential members of the jury that the defendant is insured. Juries tend to award more money if they feel an insurance company will have to pay the award rather than an individual. It is questionable whether this technique is proper, since the jury is not supposed to know of the existence of insurance. Nevertheless, many plaintiffs’ lawyers ask this question to influence the jury.
The insurance company’s lawyer phrases questions to the jury panel so as to suggest that accident victims should not receive much compensation. Thus, voir dire is important not just because it determines who sits on the jury, but also because it presents the attorneys with their first key opportunity to influence the jurors.
Many other questions are asked during voir dire. To the average juror, this process may seem quite dull. The lawyers, however, are extremely interested in the responses, since the makeup of the jury has a great effect on the outcome of the case. Experienced trial lawyers give this process extremely close attention. In large cases, professionals who specialize in jury analysis may prepare a profile of the ideal juror for the case. This helps the lawyer select favorable jurors and eliminate those that do not fit the profile.
Lawyers tend to pick jurors with a gut instinct instead of poring over jury research. If the juror gives the lawyer a friendly, accepting look or a favorable nod of the head during voir dire, that lawyer will probably want this juror, even if jury research indicates that he or she will be an unfavorable juror. During voir dire, the attorneys seek a promise from the jurors that they will be fair. The reality is that each lawyer wants jurors who are sympathetic to their client’s cause and unsympathetic to the other side. Ideally, your jury will be unfairly prejudiced against the other side.
The lawyer is duty-bound to zealously represent the client’s best interests, while always acting within the bounds and strictures of the rules of ethics and professional responsibility. The American system of jurisprudence is adversarial in nature and lawyers are expected to practice in an adversarial manner. Theoretically, truth and justice emerge after a legal battle in which each attorney presents the evidence in the light that is most favorable to that attorney’s client. It is a nice theory but hardly scientific in its accuracy.