By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Ever had the experience of asking someone to ask someone else something on your behalf? It's like a sixth-grader's attempt to find out if someone likes you. Sometimes you need a little plausible deniability but, in most cases now, it's easier and more direct to just ask on your own. And that is pretty much what attorneys want in voir dire. It is nice for the judge to explain the procedures and deal with some of the more obvious hardship and cause challenges, but I think it's safe to say that every trial lawyer wants the chance to ask their own questions in voir dire. Unfortunately, in some states and in most federal courtrooms, attorney-conducted oral voir dire is either limited or nonexistent.
The judges in those courtrooms, however, have discretion, and can allow attorney-conducted oral voir dire if they think the case or the circumstances call for it. So, when attorneys do have an opening to argue for their own chance at the lectern during voir dire, how do they make the case? If the judge is firmly convinced that it's wasted time or an unwelcome opportunity for lawyers to ask panelists to prejudge the case, then nothing is going to change that judge's mind. But if judges are on the fence, then a joint request from the parties, along with a few good reasons, might be enough to sway them. This post offers five reasons, along with some supporting research, that could buttress a brief or an oral argument in favor of attorney-conducted oral voir dire.