Sunday, December 5, 2010

VOIR DIRE (vwa deer)

In American jurisprudence, voir dire is an important part of the jury selection process. During voir dire, prospective jurors are asked a series of questions to determine whether or not they are fit to serve on the jury. Lawyers for both sides and the trial judge may ask questions and dismiss jurors, and it is hoped that the end result of voir dire is an  impartial jury which will sit fairly in judgment on the case. In some cases, voir dire may be brief, but in complex or highly publicized trials, it can be a lengthy process


As of 5:00 pm on Friday, December 3rd, six out of a total of possibly 14 (12 plus a couple of alternates) jurors had been selected in Crystal's trial.  Having sat through trials and the Voir Dire process before I expected it to be tedious...and it was.  However, as slow as it was most of the time the process in its entirety is interesting.  

I didn't count exactly but every fourth potential juror was actually selected by both sides.  Interviewing each potential juror took (I'm estimating here) more than an hour.  Then there's the absurdly long lunch break from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm.  Then things wrap up right at 5:00 pm or, if they are in the middle of an interview, as soon as they are through with that person.   

The Prosecutor, Mark McCullough, asked the standard questions.  The one that I always remember is whether the potential juror understands and can hold the state to a standard of proof that is "reasonable doubt" and not something higher like "beyond a shadow of a doubt".  

The Defense Attorney, Ms. Mani Dexter, went into excruciating detail about whether a potential juror recognized Crystal and/or her name.  All of them did to one extent or another.  She then queried each of them on whether they had formed an opinion about Ms. Mangum's truthfulness.  She didn't use that word, she danced around it, but that was what she was getting at.  She wanted to weed out, I assume, potential jurors who had already formed an opinion about Ms. Mangum's truthfulness.  As we all know Crystal has been pillaried in the press for having even dared to accuse those young men from Duke of  having raped her.  You can imagine that, with the slanted reporting and general hateful rhetoric that has been shown toward her, it is difficult to find someone (despite there never having been a finding of fact in a court of law that she lied)  who hasn't been influenced to believe that she lied. No matter your own feelings (and that's all they are, even mine for that matter) about her truthfulness in the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case I think it is safe to say that MOST people in the potential jury pool will have something negative to say about Crystal and whether not she is a person who tells the truth.  This is important because she has the right to a fair trial (as did those young men from Duke had they gone to court). 

At several points Judge Abraham Penn Jones asked the potential juror to step out of the room while he discussed things with the lawyers.  One potential juror in particular had a great many ties to Duke - degrees from there, worked there in the past, family members who worked there, child that goes there, etc.  Ms. Dexter tried to have this guy excused "for cause".  Judge Jones repeatedly refused and Ms. Dexter had to eventually use one of her six "preemptory" challenges.  "Preemptory" simply means that she (the prosecution has six as well) has six times that she can choose not to seat a juror for which she doesn't have to even give a reason.  The trick is to not use them all up because you never know when you'll need them so Ms. Dexter was loathe to spend one on this guy who, it seemed clear to everyone but the judge, had too many ties to Duke to be unbiased.  The gentleman kept saying that he felt he could be impartial and that was good enough for the judge.  

This incident and another one lead me to reconsider my initial assessment of Judge Jones.  He comes off as serious and thoughtful most of the time but this incident showed his bias toward the state.  The other thing that got me thinking was when he was telling a story, something he is prone to do, where he said that he grew up in the segregated south and that he himself believed that police told the truth 99.9 percent of the time.  This was in response to a line of questioning by the defense lawyer.  I don't know about you but I find that more than a little hard to swallow.  He must have been the only black man of his age in the south that the police didn't lie about while interacting with him.  The recent cases where people are being released from death row after decades behind bars proves that a good many police do in fact lie.  Anyone, of any background, who has had to go to court and deal with police testifying on the stand knows that they invariably "shade" the truth to support the charges they have brought.  It is absolute "willful ignorance" on the part of anyone, especially a judge, to say that police don't lie. So, I am rethinking whether or not I can believe that this judge can be impartial.  The jury (in my mind) is still out on the subject!

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