Voir Dire: Lessons From the Blagojevich Trial (Let’s find some smart jurors)

 

The “Ward Room” blog posted an interesting item authored by Phil Rogers titled “Surprise: Some Jurors Don’t Know a Thing About Blago.” It can be found at: http://is.gd/cKwiY

The piece reviewed the voir dire process in the corruption trial of ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich. Among the interesting bits of information about the potential jurors for the case was the fact that several of them stated they knew NOTHING about the whole Blagojevich scandal.

Really? They knew nothing about Blagojevich’s impeachment? They knew nothing about Blagojevich being plastered across our TV screens for the past year or more?

OK, fine, let’s assume they are telling the truth and that they know nothing about the allegations against Blago. I suppose that inherently means they must be able to be fair to our ex-Governor during the trial.

I wonder though: Do we really want people who are completely ignorant of the world around them being jurors in one of the most celebrated political corruption trials in history?

I know we cannot and should not impose intelligence requirements on jurors. Nor can we require that prospective jurors read a certain number of newspaper per year. But it is absolutely amazing to me that we can live in a society in which we are constantly bombarded by information and still find people who choose to shield themselves from all of it.

Are people who claim utter ignorance of the world around them necessarily felt to be “good” jurors merely because they can say they have not prejudged the case? This is where I part ways with the philosophy of a good many judges who say that lawyers are only entitled to an extremely limited voir dire which serves the sole purpose of finding jurors who can be “fair” to all sides.

I believe the voir dire system should aspire to more than just finding people who are blank slates. It is important to have jurors who have a sense of curiosity; who are willing to absorb information; who will use their common sense to see the evidence for what it really is; who will be willing to challenge the ideas posited by the attorneys.

In sum, I want smart jurors. And, I don’t want to have my wrist slapped by a trial judge because I want to find out which magazines they read, or the types of websites they visit. Lawyers should be given the tools they need to find jurors who are sufficiently intellectually curious to allow people to have confidence that the justice system comes to the correct result.

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