Dateline: July, 2011, Issue 4

Which better uncovers bias: juror questionnaires or oral voir dire?

Parties have a right to the judgment of jurors unclouded by bias, prejudice, or a fixed or preconceived opinion. Juror questionnaires are often opposed because they are argued to cause delay or are deemed unnecessary to identify bias.

Flores (2011) compared potential jurors' disclosure of biases in oral voir dire to what they were willing to disclose on written juror questionnaires. Two hundred jury-eligible individuals completed a written juror questionnaire that included questions that could signal a basis for either cause or peremptory challenges in a case. The potential jurors then were brought, one at a time, to a mock courtroom staffed with actors (playing a judge, attorneys and other jurors). The jurors were sworn and the judge then read a standard introduction about voir dire and the case.

The potential jurors underwent one of four different types of oral voir dire:

Jurors chose not to reveal in oral voir dire information that would qualify them for cause challenges and specific experiences that directly impact and bias decision-making:

The potential jurors were willing to disclose the information withheld in oral voir dire on written juror questionnaires.

In sum, written juror questionnaires are irreplaceable for uncovering experiences and important forms of bias that jurors are reluctant to divulge in oral voir dire.

Source Flores, D.M. (2011). Methods of expanded voir dire and written questionnaires: Experimental results on juror self-disclosure and implications for trial practice. Court Call, Summer, 2011, pp. 1-6.