Jury Selection: The Aspects of Voir Dire and a Key to Success in Criminal Law (Part 1)

What if I told you that you were going to trial and your fate would be decided before anybody provided testimony?  Would you believe me?  Probably not, however, the reality is that the process of “Voir Dire” is the key to success in a criminal trial.

Voir Dire is a legal phrase for a variety of procedures connected with jury trials. It originally referred to an oath taken by jurors, to tell the truth (Latin: Verum dicere), i.e., to say what is right, what is objectively accurate or subjectively honest, or both. In Michigan, we use the term Voir Dire to discuss jury selection.

In the State of Michigan, the concept of jury selection can be a complex one.  To study this issue, we break the topic down to jury questionnaires, challenges, and social media research.  Today, we will discuss the topic broadly.  To gain insight into the issue of voir dire, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in our state.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus is known as one of the top business lawyers in the State of Michigan.  McManus stated, “Voir Dire is nothing that you learn in law school. The reality is that when we pick a jury, we are making selections for the freedom and future of our client. It is a process that we take very seriously. The amount of time that we study juries is far more time consuming that most firms, and we do not charge our clients for it. To us, voir dire is a very personal issue.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo. She is known as one of the top divorce attorneys in Washtenaw County, Michigan.  Kelley provided her thoughts when she said, “Many people hire jury consultants to help with this process. What our firm has learned is that nothing can replace researching on our own. Geography is crucial to the selection of jurors.  What works in Wayne County is not what works in Washtenaw or Macomb County. We have done studies for each county and have compiled statistics to give our clients the most optimal result.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in both Michigan and the federal court system. When asked about voir dire, Amadeo said, “This is a topic that I started researching long before I went to law school. I wrote a thesis paper on “The West Memphis Three” and studied the actions of Kent Arnold. (https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/us/29memphis.html). What we learn from the effects of Arnold is that what goes on in the jury room can be significantly influenced. If you have a corrupt juror that ends up being the jury foreman, your client will suffer the consequences.  Tragedies such as “The West Memphis Three,” Brendan Dassey and “The Central Park Five” are happening every single day.  As criminal defense lawyers, voir dire is where the fight starts. We need to take that issue very personally.”

Nancy Eaton-Gordon is a partner at Jackson Eaton-Gordon in Lenawee County, Michigan, and one of the top lawyers in that area.  Eaton-Gordon provided commentary when said, “A Lenawee jury is different from other juries.  There is a set of questions that counsel needs to understand to understand the pulse of a jury in our community truly.  It is not a one size fits all proposition.”

Christian Wiesenberg is the founder of Fidelis Law in Livingston County, Michigan. Wiesenberg added commentary when he said, “A Livingston County jury is different from a Washtenaw County one.  Voir dire is very much like geography; you need to understand your audience to advocate properly for your client.”

While the concept of voir dire is a broad one, an understanding of different aspects of the issue needs further examination.  The next article on this issue will discuss how to challenge jurors.

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