Lawyers in Massachusetts courts may now, for the first time, question prospective jurors before selecting a jury in civil and criminal trials. This groundbreaking change in law will help ensure fair jury trials. Massachusetts recently changed its voir dire practice – the process at the beginning of a trial by which the jury pool answers questions and then the lawyers weed out potentially biased jurors. Previously, only the judge – not the attorneys – was able to lead voir dire questioning.
New Mass Law on Jury Selection
In 2014, the Massachusetts legislature passed Chapter 254 of the Acts of 2014, joining 39 other states that allow attorneys to conduct voir dire. The courts followed with Standing Order 1-15, giving judges and attorneys procedures to implement this new law. The new procedures take effect on February 2, 2015, for all civil and criminal trials in all counties.
The new law allows:
- Attorneys or self-represented (pro se) parties to conduct voir dire after making a formal request to the court that lays out the topics they wish to cover
- Attorneys to suggest a monetary amount for damages suffered by a plaintiff in a civil trial
- Judges to continue to use their discretion to supervise voir dire and set reasonable limitations on questions and timing
- Jurors to continue to have their dignity and privacy respected
Potential jurors will still fill out the statutory Confidential Juror Questionnaire before oral questioning in court.
How the New Law Affects Personal Injury Clients
The Massachusetts Bar Association has been a strong supporter of the new law and its implementing procedures. According to the Association, “the court has taken a tremendous step toward assuring fairness in jury trials . . . [including] root[ing] out juror bias.”
The benefits to personal injury lawyers and our clients cannot be overstated. Now we can get to the heart of issues that may cause juror bias. We may question potential jurors on issues that directly affect our clients and hot button issues in their cases. Previously, we were subject to the trial judge’s willingness to conduct a particular line of questioning and follow up questions. And by suggesting a monetary amount that our client suffered in damages, we may be able to ask about whether jurors would have bias in awarding this amount of damages to the plaintiff. With a deeper level of questioning that is sensitive to our clients’ circumstances, we will be able to help put together a fair and unbiased jury panel.
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as the result of someone else’s negligence, contact our experienced personal injury lawyers today for a free consultation on how you can achieve the fair outcome that you deserve.