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words of law legal terms

 

Words of Law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s phrase is voir dire.

voir dire (vwahr deer also vor deer or vor dir) n. [Law French “to speak the truth”] (17c) 1. A preliminary examination of a prospective juror by a judge or lawyer to decide whether the prospect is qualified and suitable to serve on a jury.  Loosely the term refers to the jury selection phase of the trial.  2. A preliminary examination to test the competence a witness or evidence. 3. Hist. An oath administered to a witness requiring that witness to answer truthfully in response to questions. – Also spelled voire dire – Also termed voir dire exam; examination on the voir dire – voir dire, vb.

Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

“Voir dire consists of oral questions asked of prospective jurors by the judge, the parties, or the attorneys, or some combination thereof.  This oral questioning, often supplemented by a prior written questionnaire, is used to determine whether a potential juror is biased, knows any of the parties, counsel or witnesses, or should otherwise be excluded from jury duty.  Voir dire is a tool used to achieve the constitutional right to an impartial jury, but it is not a constitutional right in itself.”

“Typically, a number of prospective jurors are called to the jury box, given an oath, and then questioned as a group by counsel or the court…. Individual or sequestered voir dire is used in rare cases where extensive publicity may potentially damage a defendant’s case; some jurisdictions mandate it in death penalty cases.  A prospective juror must answer questions fully and truthfully but cannot be faulted for failing to disclose information that was not sought.”

“A party may move for dismissal for cause to remove any potential juror shown to be connected or biased in the case.  A court may sustain counsel’s request to strike a juror for cause, in which case the juror steps aside and another is called.  Or a judge may overrule a challenge for cause if a suitable reason has not sufficiently been established.  Challenges for cause are not limited in number.”

“Each side also exercises peremptory challenges to further shape the composition of the jury.  Peremptory challenges are used to dismiss a prospective juror without the need to provide a reason for dismissal.  Statutes or court rules typically set the number of peremptory challeges afforded to a party.”

Gale Encyclopedia of American Law, 3rd ed., Gale Cengage Learning, 2011, vol. 10, page 262.

In Massachusetts, jury selection is governed by statute (Mass. General Laws chap. 234 sec. 28) and under the direction of the court.  (see also Mass. Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 47 , Mass. Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 20, and Superior Court Standing Order 1-15).  “In a civil case, each party is entitled to four peremptory challenges.”  (Mass. General Laws chap. 234 sec. 29).  (see also Mass. Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 20 and Superior Court Rule 6).

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