Voir Dire – Questioning of potential jurors
Voir Dire is a phrase commonly used in the American legal world, but it has its roots, both linguistically and philosophically, in ancient times and societies. It literally means “an oath to tell the truth”. Today, the phrase refers to the process by which potential jurors are questioned about their background and potential biases prior to being selected to sit on a jury. The social media site Facebook is increasingly being used during Voir Dire to discover more about potential jurors.
The notion of Voir Dire gained new life last week when Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals reinstated a nearly $5 million dollar jury verdict rendered against State Farm Insurance Company in a rear-end collision UM (Uninsured Motorist). The case that had been shelved by the judge on the grounds of “juror non-disclosure” regarding a jurors failure to disclose his history of litigation. Prior to any jury trial, including this of Gamsen v. State Farm, lawyers from both the plaintiff and the defense question the potential jurors about their past experiences, hoping to eliminate possible biased jurors from serving on the jury.
This case, and its timely verdict, is rich in more ways than one. It sheds new light on the importance of truly following-up with potential jurors to make sure that the men and women chosen to sit on juries and pass judgments on others are truly unbiased. As the case brings to attention, simply asking a potential juror “if they have been in court” is not conclusive and should not be the end of questioning by counsel. The potential juror might respond truthfully with a “No,” but that does not mean that they had not been involved in litigation. It just means that they took the question literally, and that they had not been in a court room before. But as any lawyer knows, there is much litigation and legal proceedings that take place outside of courtrooms.
As President Bill Clinton once said, “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” People, especially lawyers, must be meticulous with their lines of questioning of potentials jurors in order to ensure that trials run as smoothly as possible and that verdicts delivered in a court of law are as untainted as they can be.