Dateline: December, 2008, Issue 4

Do jurors answer fully and truthfully in voir dire?

Voir dire is typically conducted in public in groups, and potential jurors often are asked questions most people do not like answering in private and when alone. Post-trial interviews with jurors reveal that jurors often fail to answer fully or truthfully.

Seltzer and colleagues (1991) observed jury selection in 31 criminal trials, and then interviewed jurors after the trial. Voir dire answers and information from the post-trial interviews differed in important ways. Some jurors did not reveal to the court that close friends and family worked in law enforcement (8% came forward, 30% did not). More than half of the jurors who had been crime victims did not admit it in court. About half the jurors maintained that a defendant must prove his or her innocence, although that view wasn't asserted during voir dire.

Johnson and Haney (1994) observed four voir dires in felony cases and interviewed jurors post-trial. Despite voir dire lasting at least 5 hours in these cases and questioning by both the judge and the two attorneys, some jurors who served on a trial disagreed with the presumption of innocence and other jurors admitted they had not been able to set aside their personal feelings or biases during the trial.

Post-trial interviews of serving jurors reveal that voir dire does not obtain full information from jurors nor prevent significant biases from affecting verdicts.

Source Seltzer, R., Venuti, M. A., & Lopes, G. M. (1991). Juror honesty during the voir dire. Journal of Criminal Justice, 19, pp. 451-462.

Source Johnson, C. & Haney, C. (1994). Felony voir dire: An exploratory study of its content and effect. Law & Human Behavior, 18, pp. 487-506.