NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Last Updated on: 4th October 2023, 01:30 pm
Texas Defense Attorneys Discuss Voir Dire in Criminal Trials
Howdy folks! As a defense attorney practicing in the great state of Texas, I wanted to have a plain-talk conversation about an important part of any criminal trial – voir dire. Now I know that’s some fancy French word that makes it sound more complicated than it is. Voir dire just means “to speak the truth,” and it’s when attorneys like me get to ask questions of potential jurors before a trial starts to make sure we get a fair jury.
I’ll be real with y’all – voir dire is one of the most critical parts of any trial. It’s our first chance to get to know the men and women who’ll be deciding our client’s fate. A good voir dire can uncover biases or prejudices that would prevent someone from being an impartial juror. It helps us identify any snakes in the grass who might ignore the evidence and law. On the flip side, a bad voir dire can leave us with a jury that’s unfairly stacked against our client from the get-go. So we gotta treat this part of the process with the care it deserves.
Now in Texas, the prosecutor usually goes first in questioning potential jurors. The defense gets our turn after that. The goal for us defense attorneys is to figure out who might have it out for defendants from the start. For instance, we’ll ask about:
- Presumption of innocence
- Burden of proof
- The 5th Amendment
- Police testimony
- Jurisdictional prior convictions
We’re looking for any hint that someone won’t be fair or follow the law. It’s not personal – we just gotta protect our clients’ rights. The Constitution guarantees everyone a fair trial, no matter what they’re accused of.
Voir dire is an art, not a science. Every case is different,, so the questions have to be tailored specifically. There are no rules of evidence during this part, so we can really get creative in exploring jurors’ views. I like to use stories,, metaphors, and real-world examples to get folks opening up. The more they say, the better read we can get on potential biases.
Here are some tips for an effective voir dire:
- Know your case inside and out – The issues you focus on should connect directly to the facts and themes of your trial.
- Have a goal – Figure out the ideal jury for your case and craft questions to help you identify those folks.
- Use themes – Introduce the key ideas you’ll come back to during your closing argument.
- Get creative – Ask open-ended questions and pay attention to body language.
- Take notes – Document jurors’ responses and impressions to review after questioning.
If the judge won’t let you ask something important, make sure to object and create a record. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has a three-part test to evaluate limits on voir dire. We gotta show our questions were proper, that the judge limited our ability to examine potential jurors, and that the jury included biased people as a result.
After voir dire, both sides can use challenges to remove jurors we think won’t be fair. We get a certain number of peremptory challenges where we don’t have to give a reason. But we can also challenge “for cause” if we think someone is clearly biased or unqualified.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important than making sure our clients get a fair shake. The Constitution guarantees it, and voir dire is our first opportunity to secure it. With the right preparation and strategy, we can weed out bias and empanel folks who will hear the evidence with an open mind. That’s all our clients can ask for, and it’s our duty as advocates to deliver it.
Well, that’s my take on voir dire in a nutshell. I know it’s not the most glamorous part of a trial, but it sets the stage for everything that follows. We defense attorneys take it seriously, even if we have to poke around the snake den a bit to get the job done. The fate of our clients is on the line, so we can’t leave any stone unturned in making sure justice gets served. I hope this gave y’all some insight into how we approach this critical first step on the road to a fair trial.
 Special issues in voir dire, Texas District & County Attorneys Association
 Voir dire on punishment, Texas District & County Attorneys Association
 Jury Selection (Voir Dire) in Texas, Whalen Law Office
 Voir Dire, State Bar of Texas
 Texas Voir Dire: The First Step To a Fair Trial, John T. Floyd Law Firm
 Counsel Should be Permitted to Voir Dire Prospective Jurors, Goldstein & Hilley