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Jeremy Tor | Jan 2, 2015

Supreme Court Reminds Us of the Importance of Voir Dire

Categories: Civil Rights

A truck driver crashed into Gregory Wagner, causing him serious injury that required amputation of both legs. Warner sued the driver for negligence and invoked his constitutional right to a jury trial. During voir dire (jury selection), Wagner’s lawyer asked the prospective jurors if they would have trouble being fair and impartial. They all said no, but one juror was not telling the truth. The falsehood was discovered after the verdict in favor of the defendant was rendered, at which point Wagner’s lawyer asked for a new trial.

The Supreme Court rejected Wagner’s request for a new trial and even prevented him from inquiring into the validity of the verdict—despite the evidence of the juror’s dishonesty. The Court was concerned that allowing such an inquiry would undermine the goals of “promoting the finality of verdicts and insulating the jury from outside influences.” And what about the right to a jury that is fair and impartial? The Court’s answer was that voir dire is the means of protecting that right.

Although voir dire was unsuccessful in this case, the Court’s decision reminds us just how crucial it is for trial lawyers to execute voir dire effectively so as to ferret out bias and ensure that the verdict the jury renders is truly fair and impartial.