Voir Dire

I am doing jury duty this week. I am not supposed to blog, tweet, or email about the cases and I won’t do that. But I thought I would talk a bit about the Voir Dire process which is the way the judge and lawyers select the jury.

In NYC, which is the only place I’ve ever served on jury duty, the judge calls up to the jurors room and a whole bunch of prospective jurors are sent down the courtroom. The clerk then selects twenty random jurors from the group that was sent down and they are seated. The judge and the two lawyers then ask the jurors a host of questions that will help them select the jury they want to hear the case. They are looking for life experiences, prejudices, and other situations that would make it difficult for the prospective juror to be impartial and fair in rendering a verdict.

It is a fascinating process. I’ve been through it a bunch of times now. It reveals a lot about people quickly and efficiently. I picked up a few really good tips for interviews yesterday.

Try as I might, and I have tried, I have not been able to convince any judges and lawyers to seat me. I’ll see if I can change that again today.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. Alex Murphy

    Your views are probably ‘too strongly held’ to be impartial. Have fun.

  2. JimHirshfield

    “I have not been able to convince any judges and lawyers to seat me. I’ll see if I can change that”This isn’t an investment pitch.

    1. obarthelemy

      I can picture him getting up, firing his MacBook and projector, and doing the slides with key points and charts at 45 degrees… maybe a Venn diagram to be trendy ?

    2. Jess Bachman

      Just wait until they see his juror deck.

      1. Susan Rubinsky


  3. Mike Zamansky

    I remember serving once and I was on a series of panels with one gentleman. Each time his story changed radically.Over the years, I’ve tried to make rhyme or reason out of why certain people are selected or excused from a case but there are always quite a few head scratchers.

  4. LIAD

    Jury screening is actually a game of deck stacking.In most things stereotyping and racial profiling are unacceptable. When it comes to jury stacking, they’re nigh on honourable.

    1. kenberger

      My very 1st real job after college was as a paralegal in a sharp L.A law firm.And I think you nailed it here.

    2. creative group

      LIAD:Classic example. But he is guilty as guilty can be. An all Black Jury from Compton would have convicted him on brutally killing that elderly white woman.Guilty Guilty Guilty.http://mobile.nytimes.com/2

    3. JamesHRH

      But it is limited # of challenges. Blank presentation increases chance of selection.

      1. JLM

        .The first screen is always gender and the second is education. The third is usually experience with the “system.”I bought some companies which had mountains of litigation. It is interesting to see a jury get picked and to try and protect certain jury members to benefit your case.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  5. kenberger

    I’m somehow reminded that even Elvis got drafted!(And he went)

    1. kenberger

      And among the similarities is they couldn’t make practical use of him, either.

    2. Pointsandfigures

      See the story of Desmond Doss. He was a conscientious objector during WW2. He served as a medic, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on Okinawa. I was reminded of that (and Elvis, and Ted Williams, and Bob Feller, and Jimmy Stewart) when they were eulogizing Ali.

      1. JLM

        .The bravest man I ever met was a CO. Medics, as a class of soldiers, are always brave as shit. He even fired expert with every weapon he ever touched. He just wasn’t going to pick up a weapon against another human.Bernie Sanders was a CO but, of course, he didn’t serve. Donald Trump had bone spurs and got out of the draft at the Draft Board level.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. sigmaalgebra

          My draft board was really nice and friendly to me. IBM had given me an offer, help their high end customers with optimization, and my Board told me in clear terms what would happen if I took the offer. So, I stayed in applied math and computing for computational fluid dynamics (computer algebra for local series solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations of fluid flow) for the Navy’s towing tank and/or applied math and computing at the HQ of GE time sharing. Soon I was 26 and home free.It got to be clear: My Board knew some of my background and believed that they had more suitable sources of cannon fodder. Okay by me.

  6. William Mougayar

    Maybe that’s because you’re difficult to pin down.

    1. Ruhinda Ruganda

      Speaking of pinning down – How can i reach you best off here?

  7. Dana Hoffer

    I say, “I would love to serve as a juror.” And then they excuse me. Huh?

    1. fredwilson

      That’s what happens to me

      1. bsoist

        they think you’re up to something 🙂 cc @dana_hoffer:disqus

  8. awaldstein

    Binged on the O.J. series and this was top of mind during the drawn shades of last weekend.Stranger than fiction for certain.http://www.fxnetworks.com/s

    1. LE

      I loved that series. But unlike you I watched it when it came out so I had to suffer between episodes.

      1. awaldstein

        Lucky me then. A great binge and so well done.

  9. Ruhinda Ruganda

    Wear your “I tweet all thoughts” T-shirt. That should get you back to your office by Mid Morning.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s not what I want. I want to actually be on a jury for an entire trial and be part of rendering a verdict

  10. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Who would want @fred empanelled – A strong character that will lead 12 Angry Men (or women ) – In every case @fred is going to be a strong no for one team or the otherhttps://www.youtube.com/wat…

    1. Lawrence Brass

      At offset 00:08:05 they vote expecting to agree on a vote and go home, but juror 8 is the only one who votes not-guilty against the rest 11. So one of them asks “Well, what do we do now?”, juror 8 replies “I guess we talk” and the script develops from there. Any coincidence?

  11. obarthelemy

    I think the key is to NOT want to do it. A friend of mine got roped in that way ^^Plus in France the same jury pool is used for several lawsuits and juries are not vetted per-lawsuit (except conflict of interest and such), with 12 jurors randomly drawn from the same pool for each lawsuit over a month. My friend got randomly selected from his pool 4 times in a row… the judge nicely excused him the 4th time…It’s emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically taxing.edit: obligatory: https://www.youtube.com/wat

  12. John Abrahams

    I do hope everyone will take away this message: if Fred Wilson, a busy guy with lots of other claims on his time, can commit himself to get with the program, you can too. Many people brag about how they have been able to get out of serving, or complain about how imperfect the system is. Just do it. Observe it. Learn from it. If it makes you mad, and you find yourself angry about our education or criminal justice systems, that’s fine too: then go be an activist to help fix something. But do it.Fred, thanks for taking the work seriously. I hope you’ll inspire others to do so, too.

    1. fredwilson

      Yessssssss. I totally agree

      1. JamesHRH

        Don’t try. Be as blank as possible. Lawyers are looking for prejudices….less is more.

    2. creative group

      John Abrahams:your post described us. We volunteer at homeless shelters to give back as those who seen something in us we couldn’t possibly have seen in ourselves with the circumstances of being nurtured in New York City. We complain about the injustices and donate to those in that activist lane. We recite ten of the 342 names of those freed by the Innocent Project. When the judge asks who are those names and we say those freed on various death rows around the country that have been unjustly convicted and we couldn’t possibly be apart of any mistake like that. The judge says your dismissed.http://www.innocenceproject

      1. John Abrahams

        If that’s what you believe, and that’s an honest response, I think that’s totally legit. At one point, I was a high school teacher in NYC called for voir dire on a notable police brutality case. They asked me what I did and I told them. They asked if I could think of similar cases and I mentioned three. They asked if I could be fair and I said “I’d try, but I had already read about the case.” I was rejected. One shouldn’t lie. But one should take it seriously.

    3. LE

      I do hope everyone will take away this message: if Fred Wilson, a busy guy with lots of other claims on his time, can commit himself to get with the program, you can too.Nice PSA. But the truth is there are plenty of people with the type of work that doesn’t lend itself to doing this civic duty. (Guy who runs lunch cart and doesn’t want to loose his spot for example). And it has little to do with the demands on their time either. It’s a bit parental and belittling to assume that just because you happen to view this civic duty as important others should just step in line and “get involved and change the system”.By the way a guy like Fred works hard but also manages to find the time to travel and take time off. There are many people who are working in businesses that don’t take vacations for years, because they can’t afford to miss a day of sales. Or they don’t have the support staff to fill their shoes when they are away. Not everyone works for a large corporation with a HR department that backs them up on doing their civic duty (and in fact requires it) or is independently wealthy like Fred is.

      1. John Abrahams

        That’s true. It’s expensive and a hassle. Voting is less so, but it still takes time. But opting out, because we think *our* time is worth more, leads to a tyranny-of-the-commons situation, and it’s expensive too — just in less visible ways. Many of us undervalue the benefits, financial and otherwise, of living in a place where the rule of law mostly works. It would be easier if we didn’t have to serve. But if, in exchange, we get to live in a society with free speech rules, enforceable contracts, insurance, etc.? One day every eight years seems like a bargain. #NotALawyer #NotRelatedToALawyerEither

    4. Donna Brewington White

      Can you get out of jury duty without a valid reason? Is it even a choice?

  13. William Mougayar

    I’ll predict the judge will seat you, but one of the lawyers will object to it, and you’ll be dismissed again 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      That’s what always happens to me

      1. Vendita Auto

        Reads like a VC pitch : )

      2. LE

        Well since you have to Voir Dire you have to accurately report what you do. But once you step back and semi retire you can simply say you are retired and you should have your wish come true. My guess is the words “venture capitalist” as opposed to just “investor” is the trigger.

      3. ShanaC

        well did it happen?

  14. kirklove

    Voir Dire holmes, voir dire.

  15. Julian

    Why do you want to be involved in creating the verdict?

  16. TeddyBeingTeddy

    Did you watch the OJ 30-30 documentary? You probably aren’t the juror the defendant is willing to accept. You’re too educated and not biased enough. Isn’t it ironic?

    1. fredwilson

      I started to watch it and then recorded it to watch later. Havent gotten back to it yet

      1. TeddyBeingTeddy

        you’re going to love (and kinda hate) it. fascinating.

      2. TeddyBeingTeddy


    2. creative group

      TeddyBeingTeddy:We went and reviewed the education level of the OJ Simpson jury and will have to confirm with only one college graduate your view has support.http://usatoday30.usatoday….

  17. JLM

    .Voir dire is about rejection, not selection. It gives attorneys a chance to get rid of people and the remaining folks are the jury by default.Depending on the case — criminal Class A felony (20) to civil case (10) — each attorney gets some number of peremptory challenges of any juror in the “pool” once jurors are excused for their own causes.The Judge can also dismiss jurors for other causes related to the specific case. The Judge’s dismissals may be at the request of one of the attorneys as being “unqualified” for any reason he can sell to the Judge.Fred Wilson would likely be the victim of a peremptory challenge by one side or the other for the obvious reasons — too well qualified to render a verdict.Ask yourself — would you want Fred Wilson on your jury?I agree completely with Fred that it is interesting as Hell to see the system “work”. The other thing is to become an Election Judge and see that system work from the inside.I will be putting my money on Fred not being selected.If you want to be selected wear jeans and a clean shirt. No watch.If you want to be challenged, wear a suit and an expensive watch.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. fredwilson

      I wore jeans and a clean shirt and no watch yesterday and today. Here’s hoping

      1. JLM

        .I am sending jury selection juju in your direction. It is powerful, so don’t fight it.Do you know as a juror, you can ask questions of any witness?Ask some questions and screw with the lawyers.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      2. creative group

        FRED:are you saying you want to serve or you don’t want to serve?

      3. Susan Rubinsky

        I always dress in business attire. Maybe that’s why they select me. I also bring a laptop and work while I am waiting.

    2. Cam MacRae

      Ask yourself — would you want Fred Wilson on your jury?Not bloody likely! But if I were ever to find myself in that unfortunate position I’d opt for a bench trial so it’s nothing personal.

      1. ShanaC

        I would want him on my jury. He’s pay attention and think about it

        1. Cam MacRae

          And if you’re guilty as sin?

    3. LE

      Fred Wilson would likely be the victim of a peremptory challenge by one side or the other for the obvious reasons — too well qualified to render a verdict.My guess human nature wise is that you don’t want someone on the jury who could possibly be viewed by other jurors as being right just by virtue of what they have achieved. Even if that achievement is in something that is unrelated to the case at hand. Either side (as you mentioned) could view a certain person as detrimental to the case they are bringing in those respects. And sway the opinions and discussions in an unfair manner.I

    4. Lawrence Brass

      If the jury have to agree unanimously on a verdict, as I understand it is how it works, a contrarian won’t be of much help to expedite the process. He may help to discuss the issues more thoroughly, leading to a better outcome. In any case I would love to have his performance in my video collection.I would be worried if I have to participate in a decision that might be wrong. A business decision has an implicit risk and the consequences are part of the game, but in the case of a wrong criminal verdict you can ruin a person’s life.

      1. JLM

        .In Federal Court — criminal or civil — verdicts must be unanimous.In State Court, the vast majority of states require a unanimous verdict for criminal cases.In State Court, about 35% of states require a simple majority for a civil case while the remaining 65% require a unanimous verdict.It varies from state to state and also as relates to the amount of the damages sought.Hung juries are not all that uncommon — a hung jury being one that cannot reach the required level of unanimity.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. Lawrence Brass

          Interesting. What happens then, in that situation?

          1. JLM

            .You pay off the bribed juror and go about your merry way.Actually, the trial is declared a “mistrial” and the plaintiff/prosecutor can decide to re-try the case with a new jury.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          2. Lawrence Brass

            Jurors holding tacos while walking out of the court would look highly suspicious.

  18. Kirsten Lambertsen

    It would be fun/interesting to learn what questions from voir dire you’ll use in interviews.I watched a movie recently where a lawyer asked all the potential jurors if they had any bumper stickers on their car, and if so what was on them. Ha! I wish I could ask that in job interviews (in both directions).

    1. LE

      Oh that’s an old one. I remember that from growing up the bumper sticker thing (back when they were really in vogue).I actually shot this photo of a car that I saw thinking about this issue last month.Note the license plate as well….

  19. creative group

    Contributors:Take the time to read the entire article.Only one Supreme Court Justice disagreed and in our assessment of history we feel it was political reimbursement for getting him on the bench when every other Supreme Court Justice acknowledged the unequivocal bias.The Prosecutors could have used an all black jury from Compton and we would stake our life’s on it if you read the brutal summary of the case that all black jury would have convicted this animal. There was no need to rig the jury. How many juries are tailored to favor towards a particular mindset verses the facts of a case. The Innocent Project revealed this injustice numerous times.Before replying read what that animal did and how the Prosecutors only assisted him in overturning this verdict.http://mobile.nytimes.com/2

  20. LaVonne Reimer

    That’s a title to catch this former litigator’s eyes! I too had the experience of trying, hopelessly, to get seated. Some years after I stopped actively practicing I got all the way to the jury box in a case where the judge knew me well but neither of the lawyers did. I came pretty close to linguistic contortionism just to keep them from knowing my past. By the time I was done the judge was laughing out loud.

  21. karen_e

    This is a fascinating thread. I’m sorry the lawyers are being so unhelpful!

  22. Pointsandfigures

    The last time I had to do jury duty, I had 500 Lean Hog spreads on. I was lucky I wasn’t picked. Today, I wouldn’t mind.

  23. Salt Shaker

    I found voir dire in NYC to be a bit slow, yet quite fascinating. Interesting people, vocations and experiences, as one would expect in a “melting pot” like Gotham. The one thing that stuck w/ me was the large number of people who, either directly or indirectly (e.g., family, friend), were victims of violent crime. Sure, some stories fabricated to minimize selection, but likely most not.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      I was selected to sit on juries several times even though I was a victim of a violent crime. When you say yes, they don’t necessarily recuse you. If they decide not to recuse, they then ask you more specific questions about what happened to you and the results.

  24. Alexbhardy

    What were some of the best interview tips you picked up yesterday?

  25. Aashay Mody

    Please share the interview tips!

  26. jason wright

    the ‘trial within the trial’ process.’a jury of one’s peers’ – is the defendant wealthy enough?

  27. JLM

    .These days I guess you just announce how you “feel” that day. I was in Savannah earlier in the week and the word hasn’t quite gotten to the Oglethorpe Club. But, it’s early.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  28. Dan Moore

    On the topic, in a couple of different ways, an acquaintance of mine has started a company to help lawyers ask these questions even more quickly and efficiently.http://www.voltaireapp.com/Sidenote: he started it in Telluride, CO, which is about 7 hours from any big city, and crazy expensive, but beautiful. Not sure how recruiting is going.

  29. SteveLibenson

    I would recommend serving on juries because they can be incredibly interesting experiences. I was a juror twice in NYC and the deliberations in the first case were a fascinating window into how different people interpret information, draw conclusions, influence others and behave in groups.In the second case, the victim was a female cab driver who was allegedly attacked by a female passenger. During the voir dire, to be selected, we had to say that we would be willing to find the defendant guilty solely on the basis of the eyewitness testimony of the victim, as the prosecutor said that this would be the main evidence in the case. A few minutes into the trial, the prosecutor asked the victim a series of questions: “Would you be able to identify your attacker?” (yes) “Do you see your attacker here today?” (yes) “Could you please point to your attacker?” (yes) At which point the victim pointed to… the juror sitting next to me. As you might imagine, the people in the room were stunned and the deliberations that took less time than lunch.So, yes, serve on a jury to do your civic duty… but you might also learn something or get a good story out of it.

  30. Ana Milicevic

    Hope you get seated Fred. I’ve been through a couple of selections but never seated. If anything, it made me appreciate bench trials more.

  31. Dan T

    I have only been in a jury pool once, about a year ago. I never imagined that a white, 50 year old, conservative looking business owner would have been selected. But I was. I was the only man on the jury. I found the whole process to be really interesting and it gave me new found appreciation for our judicial system and our community – except for the part about how long it took the person to get to trial – almost two years. Everyone in the jury pool was very thoughtful, logical and respectful of each other. We had a LOT of down time, which was a bit annoying, except that our diverse group ended up having some really interesting conversations – not about the case. I learned a lot about the local area I had only been leaving in for a few years (South Florida) and got a lot of great restaurant recommendations as well. It really is a hardship for a lot of people to serve, but I was able to make it happen and I hope that others do the same.

  32. Susan Rubinsky

    Interesting. I always get selected. Even when I tell them I was the victim of a violent crime (which is the truth). For some reason they want me on the jury after that. I always wonder how and why that is so.

  33. andrewparker

    I hope you get seated. Good luck.In my NYC voir dire experience, some of the questions were: Have you watched The Wire (“yes”), and could you vote to convict for a violation of a law even if you felt that the violation was justified (“yes”). I got seated on the jury as juror #1, but then the case ended before it started as the defense took a plea immediately. I don’t think the defense ever intended to follow through with the case, so I don’t know what was the point of waiting until after voir dire to take the plea.After voir dire, the judge gave the potential jurors an opportunity to come forward with any potential conflicts of interest (with both defense and prosecution in the room to hear the conflicts too). I came forward and told them that (A) the scene of the crime was 3 blocks away from where my girlfriend lives in Washington Heights and (B) my sister works for the NY DA’s office as a paralegal (same office as prosecution, but different division, which i believe are called “trial bureaus”). The judge asked me if I felt these issues would bias my ability to render a fair verdict. I said they would not. And that was that. I got seated. I have no idea why the defense didn’t exclude me in voir dire.

  34. ShanaC

    I’m in your camp, but I also believe much too strongly in jury nullification. I also think way too many stupid cases end up in court, and that the way trials are run is often badly.grrrr

  35. Jay Janney

    I have a friend who is a social scientist, and who got dropped from a jury. He argued he wasn’t supposed to be impartial: The hypothesis is the defendent is innocent, and then the prosecution must show otherwise. That statement probably scared the prosecutors. It may seem a distinction without a difference, but I thought it important.

  36. Michael Molino

    Fred – I’m really interested in some of the interview questions you picked up on. Are you willing to share examples or will making them public diminish the surprise factor too much?

  37. fredwilson

    Seems so

  38. fredwilson

    They make you turn off your phones which I agree with. It’s a good use case for a smart watch !!

  39. LE

    The purpose having someone serve on a jury is not to entertain and amuse the juror.

  40. kenberger

    finally– i knew you’d come ’round one day 🙂

  41. LE

    Strong beliefs, loosely held.

  42. Tom Sullivan

    wonder if Lori would be excluded.