The Voir Dire Examination
When the parties and their lawyers are in the courtroom, a panel of thirty-five or more jurors is called. From this group of jurors, twelve will be selected to try the case. Sometimes alternate jurors, in addition to the twelve, may be chosen to take the place of jurors who may become ill during the trial. Jurors are questioned about their qualifications to sit as jurors in the case. This questioning process is called the voir dire. This is an examination conducted by the Judge or the lawyers. A deliberately untruthful answer to any fair question could result in serious punishment to the person making it.
The voir dire examination opens with a short statement about the case. The purpose is to inform the jurors of what the case is about and to identify the parties and their lawyers. Questions are then asked to find out whether anyone on the panel has any personal interest in the case or knows of any reason why he or she cannot make an impartial decision.
Parties on either side may ask that a member of the panel be excused. These requests, or demands, are called challenges.
A person may be challenged for cause if the examination shows he or she might be prejudiced. The Judge will excuse the juror from that case if he or she is satisfied with the reason for the challenge. There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause which either party may make.
The parties also have a right to a certain number of challenges for which no cause is necessary. These are peremptory challenges. The number of such challenges varies according to the charges in a criminal case. The peremptory challenge is a legal right long recognized by law as means of giving both sides some choice in the make-up of a jury. Jurors should clearly understand that being eliminated from the jury panel by a peremptory challenge is no reflection upon his intelligence, ability or integrity.
Those jurors not selected to serve on the jury will return to the Jury Assembly Room to await being sent to other courtrooms or to be dismissed from service.