Dateline: September, 2011, Issue 1

What do jurors think of attorney voir dire questions?

Jurors sometimes withhold information during voir dire. In 1994, a prospective juror refused to answer several items on her juror questionnaire, maintaining that questions about her income, religion, television and reading habits, political affiliations, and health were "very private" and irrelevant. She was cited for contempt, which a federal magistrate judge later overturned (Brandberg v. Lucas,, 891 F. Supp., 552 (E.D. Tex., 1995)).

Rose (2001) investigated questions potential jurors are asked in voir dire that they feel are either unnecessary or too private. Rose interviewed over 200 former potential jurors who had completed jury service in 13 different criminal trials involving homicide, felonious assault, robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony drug offenses, breaking and entering/possession of stolen goods, and obtaining property by false pretenses.

Overall, 53% of potential jurors felt a question asked in voir dire made them uncomfortable, seemed unnecessary or was too private:

One-fourth of potential jurors were uncomfortable with questions about involvement with the courts or crime (e.g., crime/court experience in one's family, juror has been a crime victim, juror has been charged with an offense, etc.). These questions were perceived as moderately offensive, most often because they were painful or embarrassing to answer for some jurors.

One-fourth of potential jurors found unnecessary and/or an invasion of their privacy questions about family and demographics (e.g., parental status, spouse's occupation or place of employment, children's occupation or place of employment, juror's occupation or place of employment, general location where juror resides, marital status). Potential jurors who were uncomfortable with these questions most often cited safety as their rationale. More frequently, jurors felt that these questions stereotyped them.

Potential jurors frequently objected to questions about interests and associations as irrelevant and intrusive: 20% objected to questions about religious affiliation, 10% objected to questions about voluntary organizations, 12% objected to questions about hobbies, and 8% disliked having to say whether they owned guns. Jurors felt these questions invited stereotyping and unfounded assumptions about them.

In sum, while potential jurors frequently express distaste for the more routine questions asked in voir dire, far more potential jurors cite these questions as being unnecessary rather than intrusive, with the offense not usually perceived as great.

Source Rose, M. R. (2001). Expectations of privacy? Jurors' views of voir dire questions. Judicature, 85(1),, pp. 10-43.