Voir Dire and Jury Selection
While the voir dire process in stalking and harassment cases is no different from other types of criminal cases, given the nature of stalking and harassment there may be certain matters the judge should bear in mind.
The Importance of Voir Dire
During voir dire, attorneys attempt to delve more deeply into the jury panel member's responses provided in their written juror questionnaires. The goal is to gain a better understanding of each person individually as well as potential group dynamics.
For both the defense and prosecution, voir dire constitutes a very important part of a jury trial. Effective voir dire can work to identify jurors who can be fair and impartial, rather than unfair and biased regarding a particular party or the entire criminal justice system. Clearly, the desired ultimate outcome in a jury trial is different for the prosecution and defense. However, both sides essentially have similar goals during the voir dire and jury selection process. Those goals include beginning to:
- gather information about individual prospective jurors regarding their potential to be fair-minded and impartial, and to apply the law as instructed;
- educate the jury about the parties' respective theories of the case;
- develop a rapport with, and earn the trust and respect of, the jury;
- have the jury see the attorneys as dedicated, hardworking professionals, as well as people they can trust;
- for the prosecution, have the jury see the alleged victim as a real victim deserving of justice for all that he or she has been through, and regarding the accused, to keep and strengthen his or her identity primarily as the defendant;
- for the defense, have the jury see the accused as a multi-dimensional individual and to humanize him or her; • for the defense, introduce the concept of presumed innocent until and unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt;
- introduce the jury to potential problem areas in the case and commence dealing with those weaknesses; and
- demystify the jury trial process and emphasize the importance, power and serious nature of jury service in a society governed by the rule of law.
Voir Dire Inquiry Specific to Stalking and Harassment
Stalking and harassment both consist of a pattern of conduct by a person directed toward another individual with the specific intent to cause a serious emotional reaction in that individual. Therefore, both the prosecution and defense will likely want to explore with prospective jurors their attitudes and experiences in matters related to the offenses. Thus, some of the voir dire topics specific to harassment and stalking might include:
- the panelists' general attitudes towards the criminal nature of harassing and stalking conduct;
- whether any jury panel member (or their families, friends or co-workers) has been the subject of either harassment or stalking;
- whether any jury panel member (or their families, friends or co-workers) has been investigated, accused and/or prosecuted for harassment or stalking;
- whether any jury panel member (or their families, friends or co-workers) has been the victim of domestic violence;
- whether any jury panel member (or their families, friends or co-workers) has been investigated, accused and/or prosecuted for domestic violence; and
- whether any jury panel member (or their families, friends or co-workers) has sought and/or received a domestic violence protective order or has had such an order issued against them, especially in aggravated stalking cases under §30-3A-3.1(A)(1), which involve allegations the defendant knowingly violated such an order.