Voir dire is Law French for “to speak the truth.” In the United States and a few other common-law countries that still use juries, the term describes the process of selecting jurors who will hear the evidence presented at trial, render a verdict, and sometimes determine punishment. The translation suggests a search for jurors who can render a fair and impartial verdict. Attorneys try to discover and remove jurors who seem unable or unlikely to speak the truth, such as those who nurture irrational prejudices or harbor private grievances.
In most federal courts, the judge is the primary conduit for interaction with the venire. In most state courts, attorneys enjoy more direct engagement with jurors. Naturally enough, lawyers like to select jurors who seem to like them, like their clients, or like their point of view (the trifecta is predictably rare). This seems perfectly reasonable to most observers. Jury consultants do a brisk trade.
Texas has juries and a Texan version of voir dire. I know. I had a front row seat (actually, seat number 39 out of 77) for a two-day voir dire in the 194th District Court of Dallas County, the Honorable Ernest White presiding. I knew just enough theory to be a danger to the attorneys who questioned me. I had no knowledge of local practice. My conception of voir dire – memories from a clerkship in a federal district court in Manhattan – was jarred by the experience.
This Essay dissects the transcript of that voir dire, which recorded my reactions. The transcript also recorded, I hasten to add, the reactions of the judge, district attorney and defense counsel, all of whom exhibited great skill and agility in the courtroom. As the transcript shows, we didn’t always see eye to eye on the process in which we played our different roles.
Green Bag 2d
Jeffrey Kahn, No-Limit Texas Hold 'em, or, The Voir Dire in Dallas County, 13 Green Bag 2d 383 (2010)