First, it is a very difficult skill to teach effectively because it really doesn't lend itself to the standard format for advocacy training that most of us use. We have the same problems teaching voir dire that judges have watching it. The type of discussion that we are seeing here can go a long way towards making all of us better teachers.
Second, it marks a wonderful point in the development of our online community. We have folks from literally across almost the entire United States talking about a subject that can be controversial, extremely dependent upon local practice, and difficult to master in practice, let alone at the further advanced level of teaching.
Third (because there are always three things), it gives me a chance to share a story about a technique I use to show students how to break the ice in this area.
When I reach the jury selection phase of a normal trial advocacy course my students are worn out. We have covered an immense amount of area, they have walked out on the limb metaphorically, exposing their fears and insecurities to a group of classmates that they may not have even known before class began. I like to use jury selection to reward them. I know these students now, who is the kidder, who quips one liners, the quietly competent one, the thinker, the talker, and the quick one. I need each of them to realize that they must use themselves in the jury selection process. I want them to internalize that it can actually be fun, and that there is a great deal of power in telling a group of potential jurors "I don't know," or "I need your help," and perhaps even asking them "What do you think?" followed up with why do you think it? How do I do it? We go on an Easter Egg Hunt.
I gather the group together and tell them that we are going to choose a jury in a date rape case that allegedly occurred at a frat party on the local college campus. It is a classic case of he said she said with no supporting evidence other than the circumstantial evidence from what folks saw at a party before the defendant and alleged victim were alone. I then give them about 5 minutes to brainstorm some of the types of potential bias you might be worried about if you were either prosecuting or defending this case. We then set out on an Easter Egg Hunt. I give each student an index card with an "egg" on it. The egg is a trait, belief, attitude or physical condition that might impinge on a juror's ability to serve in a fair and impartial manner. Some past gems include, "You have tourettes," "You are stoned," "You have narcolepsy," You giggle whenever someone asks you a question.....
You get the idea. I pepper funny things that happen in life with real world issues that would normally come up in this type of case. Greek life, attitude towards police, what does the word "no" mean. Things like that.
One student goes first. They do not get to sit down until they find an Easter Egg. Once they think they know what the egg is they stop and make a challenge for cause based upon the egg. They quickly figure out that this can be a bit of fun. They begin to fashion questions designed to find the egg, and become less concerned with how they might look or whether their questions are perfect. They begin to see how to engage folks to get them to give up the "egg" that they are looking for. Once they find an egg I give them a card and they take the place of the person who had the egg, and now that person comes up and continues voir dire.
This exercise accomplishes in a practical way many of the goals discussed by our three bloggers today. Give it a try and see how it works for you!
See you later,