Voir Dire and Panel Selection
After your arraignment and motions hearings, and after the court has decided what kind of evidence it will and won’t allow, your trial officially begins with the selection of your panel. As we noted earlier the panel—the military’s term for jury—consists of eight servicemembers of your own rank or higher selected from a pool chosen by your court’s convening authority. The question-and-answer process that whittles down the 12-20 person pool to the final eight panelists is known as voir dire.
In voir dire—“to speak the truth” in old French—potential jurors are asked questions by the defense attorney and the prosecutor about their backgrounds, beliefs, and knowledge of your case. Each side wants to find the jurors who are most open to hearing their version of the events in question. To get to know and understand the potential jurors—and to establish the empathy they’ll need to see the events in question at the trial from your point of view—your attorney will need to bring two things to the voir dire: preparation and presentation.
Before the voir dire begins, your legal team will receive completed questionnaires from each of the prospective panelists. These contain information about their educational backgrounds, family and maritial histories, hobbies, service histories, and other life experiences. Your attorney will want to carefully review the responses on these forms. The goal is to be able to craft voir dire questions that will elicit a reliable picture of each panelist’s fairness and openness to hearing your side of the story.
To find in your favor, the jury will need to be able to relate to you and see things from your point of view. As your representative in court, your attorney must therefore also come across as reasonable and trustworthy. The voir dire is where the jury will make its first impression of you both. Not only will the questions your attorney puts to the panelist pool need to be carefully thought-out, they should be asked in a friendly tone that invites trust and willingness to share. The attorney should never come across as arrogant, preoccupied, or rude. Instead, the key in voir dire is to establish a rapport with the jurors and earn their confidence for the trial ahead.
Capovilla & Williams are skilled attorneys with a strong track record defending military servicemembers. For more information, call them at (404) 496-7974.