Dateline: April, 2008, Issue 3

Can voir dire questions help jurors set aside a prior criminal conviction?

Some people involved in litigation have prior criminal convictions. Attorneys can ignore this information or "inoculate" against it by raising the issue and refuting it in some way. One strategy is to raise the issue of a person's prior record in voir dire and ask jurors to overlook the prior record as they decide the current case.

Reinard and Arsenault (2000) investigated whether asking jurors in voir dire to overlook a defendant's prior criminal record was an effective means of encouraging jurors not to focus on the prior record. In this research, some jurors were asked in voir dire: "Are you willing to overlook the defendant's background and fairly consider any evidence that may point to his innocence in this case?" Other jurors were either not asked this question or asked another question unrelated to the defendant's prior record.

Jurors asked in voir dire if they could overlook a defendant's criminal history convicted the defendant less often than jurors either not asked this question or asked other questions.

Voir dire questions reminding jurors not to stereotype a litigant can help jurors set aside a litigant's prior record.

Source Reinard, J. C. & Arsenault, D. J. (2000). The impact of forms of strategic and non-strategic voir dire questions on jury verdicts. Communication Monographs, 67, pp. 158-177.