Effective Voir Dire Strategies Are Vital in Highly-Publicized Cases


When criminal trials are besieged by publicity and media coverage, juror bias always becomes an issue. That’s why lawyers for James Holmes – the defendant accused of killing 12 people when he opened fire on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado – have filed a motion to move the trial to a new location where jurors aren’t so intimately affected by the incident.

Swayed by the Media

Holmes’ attorneys claim that the pre-trial coverage provided only a one-sided history of their client, undermining their ability to provide influential evidence for a sanity plea. They claim that people in Arapahoe County were affected by the case differently than anywhere else, so an unspoiled jury decision would be unlikely.

Even though the judge has announced that up to 3,500 potential jurors could be called, Holmes’ lawyers don’t see much chance in finding enough neutral candidates in that mix.

Getting Rid of Bias

Effective voir dire is all about filtering out potential jurors that you suspect won’t be open to your theory about the case, according to Susan Broome, author of Pattern Voir Dire Questions. She claims that in order to accomplish this, lawyers must encourage candidates to be open, comfortable and honest with you.

For lawyers who are dealing with a trial like Holmes’, where the media has shaped public view points, it’s helpful to follow these tips.

Voir Dire Techniques

Broome recommends that attorneys start by explaining to candidates the importance of openness and honesty. She recommends maintaining a neutral tone and expression as well as an open posture when asking questions, which will in turn encourage neutral responses.

It’s in your interest to ask open-ended questions that force the candidate to provide an honest response. By using inflection when asking for clarification, you will prompt the potential juror to elaborate on their statement.

When foraying into sensitive questions, a written questionnaire might be best to start with, if possible. You may want to start with more general topics before venturing into more sensitive ones. For example, you might ask general opinion questions about criminal matters before progressing into questions about sexual assault.

Get More Tips


Attorneys concerned about juror bias can benefit from the advice of Susan Broomes and her book Pattern Voir Dire Questions.

Susan Broome, Ph.D., has been working with trial lawyers for more than 20 years. She was trained at Litigation Sciences, Inc., and was one of two consultants to open its Boston office.

Presently, in addition to assisting trial lawyers and witnesses at her own
firm in Boston, she is an anchor for Los Angeles based Leggett Jury Research’s East Coast cases. Dr. Broome has appeared on Arthur Miller’s In Context for a session devoted to jury selection. She is a member of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

Dr. Broome holds a B.A. from Columbia University, an M.A. from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Clark University.