Expanded voir dire in Maryland

Almost every national CLE program I attend has something about voir dire. I remember one in particular — about a year after I passed the bar — where some hotshot lawyer from another state was regaling us with stories about how voir dire took two days for a medical malpractice case. He described tactics — how to begin laying the case theme in voir dire, the ability to use voir dire as a preliminary opening statement and what questions were crucial for discovering those jurors who could not decide cases fairly. I worked on a few cases in other states, and the voir dire process was long and drawn out and seemed to require days of preparation. Fast forward to my first experience with a Maryland-style voir dire. It’s best described as short. In some cases I've since been involved in, it can be done in less than an hour. Some of the longer ones have lasted about 3 hours. The hardest part (although not that hard) is understanding the process of counting in order to make strikes as effective as possible. Other than that, there is little that a trained monkey can’t understand. Here in Maryland, our judges typically ask all of the questions. The parties submit proposed voir dire questions before the trial. The judge will look them over, decide what he/she wants to do, and if you’re lucky, might ask for some oral argument on the more unusual questions proposed by counsel.

One comment

  1. It’s true. I tried cases in NYC for insurance defense firms for 8 years before I moved to Maryland. Voir dire in a one on one auto accident case took a week. No judge was present. In the space of a week both sides would try the case to the venire. A decent defense attorney (billing by the hour) would know how to stretch void dire long enough so that any decent plaintiff’s attorney with a calculator could figure out he or she was losing money even if they hit full value of a case. Pay dirt was usually when 5 jurors were in the box and we picked the sixth only to lose one of the original five to a sickness or end of term. More time was stolen when we couldn’t find a judge to rule on challenges, stuff like that. My last jury trial in Manhattan was one on eight. We picked the jury for 6 weeks before the case settled. One defense attorney went on vacation and came back during jury selection.

    On my first Maryland jury trial, the jury was picked in less than 30 minutes. I actually had to open to the jury and explain the differences between a criminal and civil trial. They had no idea what the case was about. It was, and still is, 180 degrees away from other jurisdictions.

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