Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A different perspective on voir dire

Thomas Mesereau, Jr., of Los Angeles, posed an interesting question as he wrapped up the 23rd Annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law seminar in San Antonio this weekend.

Could our reliance on reasonable doubt, the burden of proof and the presumption of innocence serve to de-humanize our clients before the jury?

In other words, by focusing the attention of potential jurors on reasonable doubt, the burden of proof and the presumption of innocence during voir dire, are we telling them that it's not a question of whether or not our client did what he is accused of doing but, instead, a question of whether or not the state can prove it. In that scenario, our client isn't a person accused of a crime, he's just the person sitting in the chair next to us at the defense table.

Mr. Mesereau pointed out that by now most of the folks sitting on your jury panel have seen enough on television to know that they won't be getting the whole story in the courtroom. They know that there is certain evidence that they won't get to see because it was suppressed or deemed inadmissible. They expect us to try to keep evidence out.

Might the better approach be to look for jurors who have connections with your client? Are there certain qualities we can detect in a juror that gives us reason to believe that he or she can empathize with our client? Given the time constraints we face in the misdemeanor courts, I tend to be a bit doubtful.

While I think Mr. Mesereau made some very good points, I also think his attitude comes from his own experiences and from the types of cases he tries and clients he represents. When you're dealing with a celebrity accused of child molestation, finding jurors who connect with your client is important.

A typical DWI trial, however, really comes down to a question of opinion and when we're talking about the opinions of a police officer, the concepts of reasonable doubt, burden of proof and presumption of innocence are vital for a jury to understand.

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