What Are the Origins of Jury Questionnaires?


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The origins of jury questionnaires are the English common law practice of voir dire, in which a juror was required to take an oath if his participation in the jury process was challenged because of a perceived or actual bias against the defendant. The term is still in use in the United States court system and applies to the process of jury selection, which now also includes the use of jury questionnaires to screen out or challenge jurors who may hold certain biases that prohibit them from serving on the jury. Beginning in the early 1970s, the jury questionnaire has been an important part of the voir dire, or jury selection, process.

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Jury questionnaires have played an important role in the voir dire process of some of the most famous trial cases of the past few decades, such as California v. Michael Jackson, United States v. Timothy McVeigh, California v. Phillip Spector and United States v. Oliver North. Jury questionnaires can help trial lawyers obtain responses that more accurately reflect juror biases that can affect the case.

Attorneys have found that the written answers supplied by prospective jurors on printed questionnaires often contain more honest responses than the spoken answers obtained during the verbal portion of the in-court voir dire process. Printed questionnaires provide potential jurors with an opportunity to enjoy more comfort and privacy when providing their responses, especially in a high-profile case, during which the press may be present during the court room voir dire process.

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