Voir dire is the selection process in which prospective jurors are questioned and challenged to weed out jurors who may hear the case with an inordinate amount of prejudice and bias that lurks in the thinking of every Maryland juror. In most jurisdictions, the potential jurors are examined either by the prosecutor or, in a civil case, the plaintiff’s attorney for both cause and peremptory challenges.
Unfortunately, in Maryland, voir dire is limited to questions proposed by counsel to be asked by the judge. There have been studies done in the voir dire context that show questioning from a judge inhibits juror candor. What then do Maryland lawyers rely upon in picking a jury? Gut instincts and stereotyping.
Before every trial, I read anything I can get my hands on to get a better idea of what I am looking for in potential jurors who will be receptive to my client. One very early morning, around 1:00 a.m., before a huge trial, I went to my good friend Google and did a search. I found a law review article from Ohio Northern University (have you ever heard of it?) from 1990 that summarized the literature on stereotypes in juror selection.
What Jurors Do You Want?
I disagree with at least a full third of the article, but it is fascinating. Here are some conclusions of the studies/article summarized:
1. One study suggested that plaintiffs should avoid precise or technical types, such as bank tellers or accountants. The same study showed that farmers are tough and unsympathetic and that plaintiffs should avoid police and nurses because they “are inured to suffering.” (I’m not sure I agree, particularly regarding nurses who are actually very tuned in to the suffering of others, but the article cites two studies that support this thesis.)
2. Artists, musicians, actors, laborers, carpenters, mechanics, salespersons, office workers, and writers are good jurors to have in a personal injury case.
3. Women are sympathetic jurors.
4. Personal injury attorneys should select male jurors when representing a female injury victim and female jurors when opposing a female plaintiff. If the plaintiff is a child, accident lawyers should select women.
5. Married people are more experienced in life and more forgiving, and thus good for civil plaintiffs and criminal defendants. (This one is from Marvin Belli.)
6. Older persons favor civil plaintiffs since they can identify with the experience of aches and pains, but favor lower awards. Boy, that is a nugget there.
There are a ton more of these broad generalizations in the article. But, I think it is all just pieces to the puzzle of what your gut says to do.
Because, despite the advice offered in the first point above, if I am picking a jury for an injured client and can put on my jury a nurse who looks like a nice, fair person, I will grab her.