You have been summoned for jury duty and made it through the administrative stage. Now, you are seated in the courtroom awaiting jury selection. It is at this point that the attorneys and the judge finally get to personally converse with the panel members. This process is called “voir dire,” which, translated from French, means “to speak the truth,” or “to see them say.”
The jurors are seated in numerical order. Depending on which court you are in determines how many potential jurors may be seated for jury selection. Each party, as well as the judge, may strike potential jurors. Likewise, there must be a sufficient number of potential jurors in order to ensure that there are enough jurors remaining to be empanelled. In Texas, for instance, district courts seat twelve (12) jurors, while the lower courts (county courts and justice of the peace courts) seat six (6) jurors. Therefore, the typical jury selection panel may consist of approximately 40 panel members in district court, and approximately 20 panel members in the lower courts.
Here is how jury selection works. The judge will make some brief opening statements about the jury selection process. The judge will then explain that each attorney will have time to question the panel, either as a whole or individually. The judge will emphasize that the attorneys are not being nosey but are trying find out about the jurors’ beliefs and sensibilities in order the make sure that a fair and impartial panel is selected. Let’s be honest with each other: Each attorney wants jurors who favor their side of the case. Only the judge, for the most part, wants impartial jurors.
After the judge’s opening statements, the attorneys now take the stage with their respective clients seated at the counsel’s tables. Usually the plaintiff’s attorney goes first, then the defendant’s attorney. The attorneys will each give a brief summary of their position and then begin asking questions, either of the panel as a whole or of each juror individually. It is at this stage that a juror has the best chance of being struck from the panel.
There is an old saying among my Dallas / Fort Worth colleagues: “It is the quiet jurors that get picked.” The best way to get stricken from the panel is be as vocal as possible. When a question is asked, speak up and tell the truth. If you have some strong opinions about some issue in the case, or if you believe you cannot be completely impartial, then it is your duty to let the attorneys and the judge know it. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion. So long as you are not being disrespectful or disruptive, you will not get in trouble for expressing your truthful opinions and beliefs. For instance, if the case involves personal injuries as the result of a car accident, don’t be afraid to let the attorneys and the judge know if you have a problem awarding money for “pain and suffering,” or if you have a problem with people filing lawsuits in general. When you express your beliefs, you are bound to rub one of the parties the wrong way which gets you one huge step closer to being stricken from the panel. Meanwhile, the quiet jurors are one step closer to being chosen.
Once the attorneys have completed their questioning, the panel is usually led out of the courtroom. Now the attorneys and the judge confer on the results of the questioning. We are now beginning the “strike” stage.