Attorney-Conducted Voir Dire is Fairer, More Efficient
Washington, DC (December 14, 1995) -- Federal courts should be required to permit attorneys to participate in pretrial questioning of jurors in criminal trials, prominent Northern California attorney James Farragher Campbell will urge a federal judicial panel at a hearing in Oakland, California on Friday. Campbell will testify on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).
"To render effective assistance of counsel, an attorney must have the opportunity to uncover bias among jurors," Campbell, a partner in the San Francisco law firm of Campbell & DeMetrick, is expected to tell the panel. "Attorneys for the parties in a case are in a much better position to accomplish this than the presiding judge, because they know more about the facts of the case and they have their clients' vital interests to protect," he added.
Campbell's comments will come at a hearing scheduled by a committee of federal judges who advise the Judicial Conference of the United States on proposed changes in the rules governing federal trials. The Judicial Conference is considering amending Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to require judges to allow attorneys for defendants and the government to play an active role in voir dire, the process of questioning jurors to discover prejudice before a trial begins. The current rule permits, but does not require, judges to do so.
The hearing, which will take place in the auditorium of the U.S. Courthouse, 1301 Clay Street, in Oakland, California, will provide an opportunity for public comment on the proposed rule change. It begins at 8:30 a.m. on Friday and is expected to conclude around noon.
NACDL has long advocated attorney-conducted voir dire in federal criminal trials. Studies have shown that jurors are much more revealing of their true attitudes when they respond to open-ended questions posed by the lawyers in a case than when asked 'yes or no' questions by the judge. For that reason, as Campbell will remind the judges, "rather than prolonging trials, attorney questioning of potential jurors is the most efficient way to insulate juries from the constitutionally-forbidden influence of prejudice."
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.