The Voir Dire – Part 3

Take a look at this courtroom floor plan image. It’s a seating chart of where the remaining 64 prospective jurors were sitting after their jury cards were shuffled. In the court transcript, they were referred to mostly by number from that point forward.

The Courtroom After Jury Information Cards Were Shuffled
The Courtroom After Jury Information Cards Were Shuffled


After the break, Hawes explained the results of the shuffling to the crowd. He said, “The chances of you being on the jury are greater for those on the left-hand side of the room because of the luck of the draw.” The reasons why venirepersons with lower numbers (closer to the front of the room and on the left) were more likely to be chosen for a jury should be obvious. It’s the same reason why students on the front row of a classroom get more attention, and why some students try to sit in the back of the room. If they’re not noticed, they might have to answer fewer questions. If someone wanted to get on a jury, their best bet would be to hope for the lowest number possible, and then tell the judge and the attorneys exactly what they wanted to hear. In other words, become noticed enough that they seem reasonably intelligent, but don’t reveal that they fit a pattern that either of the attorneys would absolutely not want on their client’s jury.

The venirepersons were seated according to the number they were assigned by the random shuffling of their information cards; and were asked to hold a laminated number in front of them from that point forward so the attorneys could identify them by number when they answered questions. The first person on the left was identified as Juror #1, the next as Juror #2, and so on. Number 30 finished the seating on the left side of the room. The rest of them were seated on the right-hand side of the room in rows of eight, except for the fourth row, which seated ten jurors. This allowed the court reporter, Ms. Camillo, to simply type their number in her stenotype machine. This helped her because she couldn’t possibly capture all of the dialogue and look up each of their names at the same time. Later, when she transcribed the trial, she could turn #2 into Ms. Wilcox, #5 into Ms. Benson, or #20 into Mr. Timmons, etc. By the way, #2, Ronelle Wilcox, is the person I am primarily going to be discussing here.

Hawes explained to the remaining venirepersons that the attorneys were now going to ask them some questions, and reminded them that they needed to answer truthfully. He took some time to explain challenges and strikes, the process by which the venirepersons might be eliminated from this panel. Each of the attorneys has an unlimited number of challenges for cause (for which they have to give a legal reason), and ten peremptory strikes (which don’t require any reason at all). Peremptory strikes are usually used after the questioning is done, when the two attorneys are trying to agree on who will be on the final jury. A peremptory strike can be used, for example, to eliminate a juror that one attorney knows the other attorney wants on the jury. Think of that part of the process as a sort of chess game played with the names of the venirepersons after all the questioning is done.

Michael Sirois

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