“You will attract more bears with honey than with vinegar.” It may be a cliche, but it is nevertheless true.
During voir dire you should always be respectful of a potential juror’s opinion, no matter how much you might disagree with it. Moreover, thank potential jurors who disagree with your position for sharing their opinions. By thanking them, you signal to the other prospective jurors that it is acceptable to voice an opinion that is contrary to your own.
Once you draw out a negative juror opinion, do not argue with or chastise the opinion holder. Don’t try to influence or to teach. In an hour’s time, you will not change an opinion that it took a lifetime to form. Instead, use that negative opinion to identify other “bad” jurors (those who agree with this negative opinion). Use this opinion to get others talking. In the end, ask the “bad juror” if he or she could be fair to your client if you allow him/her to remain on the jury. This accomplishes two things: (1) it signals to other jurors that you are respectful, and (2) if you have to get rid of three worse jurors, it signals to this juror that you are a person of your word. Both of these solutions build credibility for you in the eyes of the jury pool.
In addition to being respectful, you should also be personable. I like to share a bit about myself, and I believe that sincerity builds credibility. For instance, I hail from Grants Pass, Oregon, where I helped my grandfather raise Hereford cattle, helped an old dairy owner down the road run his dairy, and worked in two wood mills. Needless to say, I knew numerous people whose political and world views were different from my own. I talk about my grandfather in voir dire. I also talk about my grandmother, who is very liberal. I like to ask the prospective jurors whether they are more like my grandfather or grandmother on a given topic, and why. By personalizing the opinions and showing that good people do not always agree, I am encouraging potential jurors to talk openly so that, in their candor, I can better assess them as potential jurors in my case.
Hopefully the five pointers that I have outlined in this blog post will be of some help. Voir dire is a moving target – it changes with the times, depending on current events. I am willing to bet that the approach was much different prior to “the McDonalds” case or tort reform. Even so, I believe that the pointers outlined in this and my previous four posts are timeless and that they can be helpful in your next trial. I wish you the best of luck!