Reclaiming Voir Dire

Identifying jurors who are subject to challenges for cause is an indispensable component of due process.1 Trial by an impartial jury is the most precious of the safeguards for “individual liberty and the dignity and worth” of every person.2 In terms of securing this fundamental right, it is no exaggeration to say that voir dire is the most important part of trial. Too often, this process is frustrated in four ways. First, many courts impose time limits on lawyers during voir dire that impermissibly burden the process of seating fair jurors. Second, many courts improperly interfere with the form of questions and the topic matters they allow lawyers to introduce. Third, many courts engage in extremely aggressive “rehabilitation” of challenged jurors. Fourth, many lawyers do not object to these unfair practices. This article argues that these practices violate the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury, undermine public confidence in the criminal judicial system, and must be challenged by criminal defense lawyers.