Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Is 5 hours enough time to conduct voir dire?

That's the question before the Supreme Court in the Jeff Skilling case. Here's the summary from ScotusBlog:

With Justice Stephen G. Breyer leading the way, the Court probed deeply into the questioning of potential jurors at Skilling’s trial in Houston, examining whether District Judge Sim Lake took too little time to ferret out potential prejudice or stopped short of following up to test jurors’ pre-trial intimations — or outright conclusions — that the accused Enron brass deserved to be convicted. Several of the other Justices questioned the brevity of that probing, but there was no evident consensus about what the Court should now do about it. Even Justice Breyer, who was the most troubled about Judge Lake’s performance (“I’m genuinely concern about a fair trial”), repeatedly stressed that he did not want the Court to go too far to second-guess such performances. “I’m worried about controlling too much,” he said on the second point.

And the NYTimes:

Mr. Srinivasan disputed that, and several justices appeared sympathetic to his argument. The lawyer said Judge Lake had spent only five hours on the task, posing cursory questions to jurors and taking them at their word that they would be fair despite evidence to the contrary.
By contrast, Mr. Srinivasan said, questioning in the trial of
Timothy McVeigh for his role in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, took 18 days after a motion for change of venue from Oklahoma City to Denver was granted.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the two cases were very different. In Mr. Skilling’s case, she said, “what’s involved is money rather than life or limb.”
Mr. Srinivasan said that extended questioning was not unusual in less serious cases, saying it had taken six days to select jurors in
Martha Stewart’s trial for lying to federal investigators.
Anthony M. Kennedy indicated that the questioning in Mr. Skilling’s case had been too brief. “It’s hard for me to think,” he said, that the questioning “would have been much shorter even if there had been no showing of pervasive prejudice.”

Here in the SDFLA, most judges give about 10 minutes a side for lawyers to question jurors. Some do all the questioning and do not allow any attorney voir dire. Most juries are selected in a day or less. Can fair juries really be picked so quickly? Let's see what the Court says in Skilling...

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