May 8, 2018
So far, our Tips series has focused on setting the stage for effective voir dire (Tip 1; Tip 2; and Tip 3), capitalizing on open-ended questions to increase our understanding of jurors (Tip 4), avoiding the “looking good” bias (Tip 5), and crafting questions with the “bad” answer in mind (Tip 6). Our next tip addresses asking questions that contrast important positions within the same question. (Click here to see a short video for this tip.)
Contrasting Viewpoints or Positions
The primary goal of voir dire and jury selection is to identify potential jurors who have a favorable or unfavorable initial orientation toward your case, ideally based on their beliefs, opinions, and values. Often the questions asked of jurors in pursuing this goal address a single value, position, or viewpoint. For example, “How many of you believe that the most important goal of sentencing in our criminal justice system is to punish those convicted of violent crimes?” Addressing a single position or viewpoint in one question has value, but this is not the only way to uncover critical opinions held by jurors. An alternate method is to contrast potentially opposing positions or viewpoints in the preface to the question and then ask jurors to choose which position is closer to their own. Consider the following examples.
“There are several viewpoints on the importance of various goals in our criminal justice system for the sentencing of those convicted of violent crimes. One view is that the most important goal is to punish those who commit violent crimes. A second view is that the most important goal is to rehabilitate those who commit such crimes. (It is possible to add other goals here.) Which of these viewpoints is closer to your view?”