The use of jury questionnaires is allowed by CCP §205(c)-(d), but it’s not required. Many judges oppose questionnaires, worrying that they lengthen voir dire because of the time it takes for jurors to complete them and attorneys to then make copies, review them, and reassemble everyone.
But using written jury questionnaires may be a valuable tool in some situations for the following reasons:
- Provides more privacy. Jury questionnaires allow counsel to ask questions that could not easily be asked aloud, particularly if the case covers a sensitive subject that could make jurors feel awkward or embarrassed if they are questioned personally.
- Brings out prejudices. Jurors often reveal prejudices that they would be embarrassed to voice before the court and other jurors. When a case contains issues that may trigger serious biases and prejudices, which people might be unwilling to admit openly, a questionnaire can be invaluable. This will also prevent poisonous statements from being made in front of the other jurors.
- Promotes honesty. Jury questionnaires elicit more candid responses on issues that a juror might be reluctant to discuss in front of other jurors. For example, if race is an issue, you may want to ask the following question: “You may be asked to serve on a criminal case in which the defendant is black. Do you think you can fairly serve on such a jury?” Many jurors will answer honestly about their bias in this more private forum.
- Removes peer pressure. Questionnaires prevent jurors from being influenced by the responses of other jurors (e.g., if one juror vividly retells an experience, expresses an opinion, or states a prejudicial fact that may taint the entire panel).
If you decide to use questionnaires, the trial court can’t arbitrarily or unreasonably refuse to submit them as long as they are reasonable, and the court should give each side reasonable time to evaluate responses before starting oral questioning. CCP §222.5.
Want more great tips on jury selection? CEB’s got you covered with California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial chapter 8, which includes a useful form with sample juror questions. CEB also has excellent CLE programs on voir dire issues, including Tips to Implement in Your Next Set of Jury Voir Dire Questions, available On Demand.
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