Many people frequently make the mistake of thinking that the key to success in a criminal case lies within some evidence produced at trial or some argument made during the trial itself. In TV courtroom dramas, the “a-ha!” moment almost always happens at or near the end of the trial. In real life, however, it’s more complicated than that. Each phase of the process can potentially be the one that makes the difference between acquittal and conviction. The question that tips the outcome in your favor may be one asked during voir dire, long before anyone even makes an opening statement at trial. This, among many other things, is why you need to be sure you have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney working for you from the very beginning of your case.
Not a lot of people know much about voir dire other than as a badly mispronounced phrase in the 1990s courtroom comedy film, My Cousin Vinny. In reality, voir dire is an essential process in any criminal case. When it comes to a jury, voir dire means a process where the judge and the attorneys asked potential jurors a series of questions. Voir dire is very, very important because it can go a long way toward identifying people who will be willing to look at all the evidence and render a fair verdict, and also identify people who might be predisposed toward returning a guilty verdict, even when the state hasn’t fully met its burden.
In a recent first-degree murder case, the defense was looking for those kinds of potential jurors, hoping to identify and exclude them. The defense wanted to ask several questions designed to achieve that goal, including spotting potential jurors who would be unwilling or unable to follow jury instructions related to the defendant’s presumption of innocence, the state’s burden of proof and the defendant’s right not to take the stand in his own defense. The trial judge, however, refused to allow those questions to be posed to the potential jurors.