"I am an unapologetic believer in jury voir dire." That's the first sentence of the "From The Bench" column in the new issue of Litigation magazine.
The National Law Journal wondered recently whether jury questionnaires are becoming more common. (The NLJ piece is subscription only; see the note below.) Whether or not they're becoming more popular now, articles like Judge Lynn's will help them spread. In a detailed and practical guide, she covers everything from the details ("The [judge's cover letter to a mailed questionnaire] should emphasize that the prospective juror should not worry about spelling or grammar but should answer to the best of that person’s ability") to the compelling reasons why questionnaires make good sense, like:
In my experience, a questionnaire provides a much more comfortable means than does oral examination for potential jurors to provide information to the parties and the court. A venireperson who has a child in prison for a drug offense would much prefer answering a question about that in writing than standing up in open court to discuss it.
There's also a meticulous discussion, with case cites, of how judges can protect jurors' privacy when they use questionnaires.
Judge Lynn concludes:
Confidential juror questionnaires are an invaluable tool for ensuring both the integrity of the jury system for litigants— especially criminal defendants— and the improvement of jurors’ experiences with that system. They allow attorneys to learn a significant amount about potential jurors, without significantly compromising jurors’ interests in maintaining their privacy in truly personal matters, yet allow the press sufficient access to report on trials and our jury system. In these ways, jury questionnaires serve the fundamental goal of maintaining the viability of the jury trial—a critical part of our system of justice.
Source note: I'm proud to be quoted -- and pictured, for heaven's sake -- in the NLJ article noted above, but it has several other sources too, plus references to questionnaires that are archived in Deliberations' library of juror questionnaires.
(Photo by Korean Resource Center at http://www.flickr.com/photos/krcla/362137815/; license details there.)