Trial Voir Dire Law and Legal Definition

When people are called to jury duty, they are summoned to the courthouse to form a pool of potential jurors from which they are called in groups for specific criminal or civil trials. There they are questioned by attorneys for each side and/or the trial judge about their background, life experiences, knowledge about the facts of the case, and opinions to determine whether they can weigh the evidence fairly and objectively. This questioning process is called voir dire, a French term meaning "to speak the truth."

The voir dire process allows an attorney to challenge a prospective juror "for cause" if that person says or otherwise expresses a bias against the attorney's case. Each attorney can also exercise a limited number of "peremptory" challenges for which no reason is required. Those individuals who are accepted by both attorneys are impaneled and sworn in as the jury. Voir dire may be directed at the jury pool as a group, asking for a show of hands, or by questioning prospective jurors individually. Voir dire may also be conducted by he judge in some cases.

Traditionally, American attorneys have had much latitude in conducting voir dire. The power to challenge-and the discretion to use it-is very important because it allows each attorney to seek the formation of a jury most sympathetic to their side.