Tuesday, September 16, 2014
A Jury of Your Peers...As Selected By The Lawyers
It's no secret that not everyone likes lawyers. They've gained a reputation for making the legal system more complicated than it should be. Oftentimes, lawyers are even accused of twisting the facts in cases or taking advantage of technicalities to gain a favorable outcome when that outcome may not be deserved.
Why, then, are lawyers allowed to participate in the process of voir dire? The right to a trial by the jury of ones' peers is a key component in the American legal system. However, if you look closer at voir dire, you will notice that the group of people that constitutes an accused's "peers" is a group that has been significantly shaped by the attorneys who have the most to gain from a favorable outcome in a case.
When a group of people arrives at the court house for jury duty, the truth is that many of them will not actually cast a vote in a trial. The final jury will be a whittled final product that makes sure that no juror could have thoughts that may affect a ruling. The woman who lost her son to a drunk driver will be quickly stricken by the defense attorney in a D.U.I. trial. The husband of a police officer stands little chance to escape the striking of the plaintiff's attorney in a police brutality suit. Other attorneys may actually decide to sacrifice a helpful juror much the way Bobby Fischer may have dangled an important chess piece.
Such maneuvers should lead an inquisitive mind to wonder whether the voir dire process is actually a beneficial one. If the true point of a jury is to compile a group of peers, is it actually helpful to eliminate so many members of the public from participation, solely on the basis of their life experiences, or even because the lead attorney may not like them? If a large percentage of potential jurors have had to personally deal with the effects of drunk driving, does it make more sense to eliminate them from the jury pool or to allow the jury pool to correctly represent that a significant amount of people feel negatively about drunk driving?
As much as the general public may hate the way attorneys can morph trials, the answer to the question of "is voir dire good" is likely yes. With both sides able to banish an equal number of future voters, the results do not necessarily favor one side over the other. Those people who may be simply too unreasonable to hear a case will not be permitted to do so. Ultimately, voir dire allows the trial to proceed with less potential objections than an unregulated jury pool might cause.
But just remember: lawyers define much of the world we live in. Including who constitutes your "peer."