Voir dire is the single most important part of a DWI jury trial. Breath test DWI prosecutions are more difficult to defend then no test cases. Blood test cases are even harder to defend. Accordingly, voir dire preparation in breath/blood test cases is more critical than in a no test case.
It is here that the defense begins the task of undermining the prosecution’s evidence. It is here that exculpatory theories emerge, that jurors begin to learn their proper role, that defense counsel starts making the potential jurors his witnesses and initiates the task of persuading them to vote “not guilty.”
No brilliant opening statement, outstanding cross-examination or spectacular closing argument can make up for a “wrong thinking” jury. It is for this reason that defense counsel must always plan the voir dire so that his questions can both teach and stimulate jurors to not only understand the jury trial right of the defendant, but also, to have them think of and espouse exculpatory theories.
No jury can correctly decide a DWI case absent having a deep appreciation and working grasp of the constitutional precepts of “presumption of innocence” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. A clear understanding of these notions is paramount to both effective jury service and to effective assistance of counsel.
Regrettably, most jurors do not understand them. It is, however, hard to blame them for this deficiency because most judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers do not either. Notwithstanding the fact that most lawyers do know the words “presumption of innocence” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”, they simply lack an appreciation of their constitutional history, true meaning, breadth and spirit.
Recognizing these criminal justice system inadequacies, it is the good lawyer who not only sets about to teach these constitutional notions to the judge and to the jury, but also, to get these legal and factual jurists to actually embrace them. Accordingly, because of judicial time constraints, learned defense counsel must thoroughly explore both of these constitutional assurances with the jury even to the exclusion of other material topics if the citizen accused is going to get the fairest trial possible. Indeed, it was with this recognition in mind, that the majority of this paper has been written.
The following voir dire questions, comments, and silver bullet tips are offered to defense counsel as food for thought so that you can hopefully render effective assistance of counsel.
Comment: Reintroduce yourself and your client.
Comment: Tell the jurors that you and your client are not there in defiance of the DWI laws. Indeed, share with them your common belief that the laws are necessary and good, but you are there because your client thinks he is not guilty.
Silver Bullet Tip 1: Do not refer to your client as “the Defendant”. Call him by name there and throughout the trial. Try to personalize your client.
Silver Bullet Tip 2: Self disclose any fears you have so as to allow the jurors to both identify with you and self disclose their fears to you. For example, admitting you had a fear of being misjudged by the jurors because of the way you wear your hair might connect to a juror who has a fear of public speaking. Your courage to self disclose could cause the juror to have courage to speak up, and more importantly, self disclose a bias/prejudice/defense.
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Silver Bullet Tip 3: In preparing your voir dire questions and comments, create a fear list, i.e., evidence that bothers you about the case. Addressing your fear list in voir dire is the best way to create defenses for it during the trial.
Silver Bullet Tip 4: A DWI 1st prosecution carries a substantial consequence for a loss by either party. For the Accused, up to 180 days in jail, up to a $2,000.00 fine, a $3,000.00 surcharge, court costs, up to a 1 year loss of driver’s license and other collateral consequences such as insurance increases. For the State, wasted prosecution and police resources. Accordingly, picking the right jury is critical to each side receiving a fair trial. However, neither side can intelligently select a jury absent sufficient time to learn about them. Hence, when a judge unreasonably limits voir dire time, BOTH SIDES OUGHT AGREE ON MORE TIME and ADVOCATE A SPECIFIC INCREASE TO THE COURT. My opinion is that each side needs at least 1 hour to be effective.
Silver Bullet Tip 5: Resist the temptation to assume an answer the jury has not given you. For example: “I take it from your silence that….”
Silver Bullet Tip 6: Use a written 2-3 page questionnaire. Both parties ought agree on written questions that will be submitted to the jury.
Silver Bullet Tip 7: If time is unlimited, use “open ended” questions as often as you can. Alternatively, if time is limited, then limit open ended questions to 1 for every 10 minutes you have. If you use “close ended” questions, then ask for an explanation as to why a juror responded a certain way.
Silver Bullet Tip 8: Loop, loop and loop again. The number three is a powerful number. Asking one juror what he thinks and then asking the next juror what he thinks of
that answer, and, then asking the third juror what she thinks of the first two answers is a powerful tool for bonding jurors together, creating defenses and for making witnesses.
Silver Bullet Tip 9: If your time is limited then use “scaled questions”. For example: “How reliable is the government’s breath test machine? Very reliable, reliable, unreliable or very unreliable”? These type of questions allow for rapid questioning of each juror.
Silver Bullet Tip 10: Try to create controversy in the questions you create. For example, some people say that if a group of ten people were charged with a crime, nine of whom were absolutely guilty and one was absolutely innocent, that it is better to convict them all to protect society from the nine guilty persons. Others say you can only protect society by freeing them all to protect the innocent person. What do you think?
Silver Bullet Tip 11: Design your questions to make the jurors think so that they create defensive themes for your client.
Silver Bullet Tip 12 Try not to use lawyer words. Speak like a lay person.
Silver Bullet Tip 13: Listen carefully to not only what jurors say, but also, what their body language says too. Make eye contact with each juror.
Silver Bullet Tip 14: The more time you spend talking is less time for the jurors to talk. Accordingly, try to have the jurors talk as much as possible.
Silver Bullet Tip 15: Know your case law and statutory rules on challenges for cause and preemptory challenges. You must also know the law on asking for additional time and whether or not a question is proper.
There are four cornerstones that make up and support our criminal justice system. They are the Presumption of Innocence, the requirement that guilt be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the government, the right of a citizen to have an attorney, and the defendant’s right to be tried by a jury of his peers. For the purpose of this discussion, we will only discuss the presumption of innocence and the proof beyond a reasonable doubt government burden.
1. What is the presumption of innocence?
Comment: It is one of the four cornerstones of our criminal justice system. It has been with us since our country was born on June 21, 1788. The presumption of innocence is a legal instruction from our founders to the judge, prosecutor and jury that it is the government’s obligation and duty to prove guilt. Said another way, an accused person has no obligation or duty to prove them self innocent.
2. What is the one and only presumption or assumption a juror can make in a DWI case?
Comment: The presumption of innocence.
3. What will you require Mr. Defendant to prove in order for you to find him not guilty? And why?
Comment: “Nothing”! The presumption of innocence requires only the government to prove anything. Where the government fails to prove guilt, the default or automatic verdict is always “not guilty”.
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4. If the prosecutor chose to let you decide this case right now, and both Mr. Defendant and I did too, and the judge agreed, how would you vote, “guilty or not guilty”? And why?
Comment: The presumption of innocence is so important that it is the only lawful authority needed for you to find a person “not guilty” where the government’s proof is insufficient to convince you of guilt.
How long does the presumption of innocence last?
Comment: It exists throughout the entire trial.
Does the presumption of innocence exist after you have heard:
● the opening statement of the prosecutor?
● the sworn testimony of the arresting officer?
● the sworn testimony of all police officers in this case?
● the breath test machine officer says he ran a valid test?
● the government’s paid expert witness says that the breath test machine was properly working and that Mr. Defendant failed the test?
● the prosecutor does a closing argument and tells you why you should vote guilty?
● the judge tells you to go into your deliberation room and decide this case?
Comment: “Yes” to all of these stages of the trial.
In regard to the presumption of innocence, where the officer says Mr. Defendant
is guilty, does the presumption of innocence require you to look for an innocent explanation or that there has been a mistake? Explain.
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8. In regard to the presumption of innocence, where the government and/or machine witness says Mr. Defendant is guilty, does the presumption of innocence require you to look for an innocent explanation or that there has been a mistake? Explain.
9. Where Mr. Defendant does voluntarily take a breath test, with the presumption of innocence in mind, can you presume that he didn’t think he was guilty? Why?
10. Does the presumption of innocence exist while each of you are deciding/talking about this case after you start deliberating?
Comment: Absolutely, the presumption of innocence is there as an instruction/a guide to each of you individually and collectively to constantly remind each other about when evaluating the sufficiency of the government’s evidence.
Comment: Some legal scholars have compared the presumption of innocence to the “scales of justice” where each bit of evidence is weighed or evaluated. A jury can determine if any particular evidence has no weight, some weight or a lot of weight. Those same scholars say that the presumption of innocence is only overcome where the government’s evidence is so overwhelming and weighty, that the scale not just tips or leans to the government, but rather, the scale is pegged all the way against Mr. Defendant.
11. How would you use the presumption of innocence where, after hearing and seeing all the evidence you conclude “I can’t decide whether Mr. Defendant is guilty or not guilty”?
Comment: Where not convinced of guilty, the default or automatic vote, is always not guilty.
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12. When you hear or see evidence that says Mr. Defendant is guilty, what does the presumption of innocence require that you think as you receive that evidence?
Comment: The presumption of innocence requires that you constantly search for innocent explanations and to accept and embrace them until such time, if possible, the government does disprove them by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
13. How many presumptions or assumptions are there in a DWI case, and, can you name them?
Comment: The presumption of innocence is the only allowable presumption and assumption.
14. Knowing that there is only 1 presumption/assumption in a DWI case, and that it is the presumption of innocence, can you:
● assume that where Mr. Defendant elects not testify for himself that he thinks he is guilty? Why not?
● presume that police motor skill coordination exercises or police standardized sobriety tests are reliable and accurate for
the average person? Mr. Defendant?
any person? Why not?
● presume that Mr. Defendant has the same motor skills or coordination as a so called average person? Why not?
● presume that the motor skill/coordination performance of Mr. Defendant as described by the police, is how normally is? Explain.
● presume that Mr. Defendant can on any sober day in his life perfectly or correctly perform police field sobriety tests? Why not?
● assume that the police breath test machines work or are accurate or are reliable because:
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– the government bought them? Why not?
– a paid government witness said it was working, that it is accurate, it is reliable? Why not?
– the result showed a 08? .16? .20? 40? Why not?
15. “Tolerance” is a word you may hear in this case. Tolerance, according to the dictionary, can have several meanings. One meaning is that tolerance is an acceptable
margin of error, i.e., we will tolerate a mistake if we don’t think it is a big one.
Another meaning of tolerance can be where a person, over time, builds up a kind of immunity against something or simply learns to cope with something. For example, a government breath test expert might say a person has a tolerance to alcohol where there appears to be no alcoholic effect to their mental or physical abilities but they still failed
the breath test.
● with the presumption of innocence in mind, can you presume or assume that Mr. Defendant has a tolerance to alcohol? Why not?
● with the presumption of innocence in mind, can you presume or assume Mr. Defendant, if impaired, can mask or hide the effects of alcohol? Why not?
Do you personally think the presumption of innocence is important and why?
Keeping the presumption of innocence in mind, can you presume or assume that
just because a person consumed an alcoholic drink that there:
● is any loss of their normal mental ability?
● is any loss of their normal physical ability?
18. What about where consumption is admitted and the amount consumed was:
● 2 beers?
● 4 beers?
● 6 beers?
● 20 beers? Why not?
16. What other words or ways can you suggest or teach to me how I might better explain the presumption of innocence to future jurors?
1. What is your definition of “Reasonable Doubt”?
Comment: “Reasonable doubt” is the second of the four cornerstones of our
criminal justice system. It is a legal instruction to prosecution, the judge and jury as to how much evidence is required for the government to prove before we can label a citizen “a criminal”. Remembering those “scales of justice” we spoke about earlier, beyond a reasonable doubt is the farthest measuring point opposite from the presumption of innocence. It is the measuring point that once crossed, once you go beyond the pegging of the scale, that a finding of guilt is allowed.
Texas has no specific definition of reasonable doubt except the one you have personally. Indeed, you may each have a different definition so long as it meets our constitutional minimum level of required proof.
We have a number of gradually increasing degrees of required evidence in our justice system. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest measure of required proof in every criminal court in the United States. To best understand what a “constitutional reasonable doubt” is we can compare it to other less important levels of proof requiring less certainty than reasonable doubt.
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Comment: “Reasonable Suspicion” – this measure is more than a mere hunch or a mere suspicion or conclusion. It cannot just be a guess and it must be supported by specific accurate reasons. This is the minimum level of proof we require our peace officers to have in order to momentarily stop a person who is suspected of being involved in a criminal activity. It is an evidence measure that does not support either an arrest or a search. For example, it would be okay for an officer to stop someone who was parked in front of a bank at lunch where the motor was running, where the driver was smoking, a number of cigarettes butts were observed on the ground at the driver’s door, and, where the driver appeared nervous and looked as if he was doing surveillance. However, it would not be okay where the officer say only that the car was legally parked for a moment with the engine on. For example, if we imagine a football field, reasonable suspicion would be at the government’s 20 yard line.
Comment: “Probable Cause” – a measure of proof requiring more than reasonable suspicion that allows an officer to arrest a person, search them, and even perform a strip search. It is also the minimum level of proof required for the issuance of a search warrant for a home and everything in it. “Probable cause” is defined as that measure of evidence that shows that a person has probably committed a crime or that the place to be searched has probable evidence there. The keyword here to be remembered is “probable”. Let us look again to the football field example and imagine that the probable cause measure is at the government’s 35 yard line.
Comment: “Preponderance” – a measure of proof requiring more evidence than probable cause. It is sometimes called the 51% rule because the party in a lawsuit who convinces the jury that 51% of evidence favors their side wins. This measure is used in
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civil lawsuits where we are talking about taking money or property from one person or business and giving it to another person or company. This measure allows a party to win where the jury might have a 49% degree of uncertainty. Turning again to our football field example, the government now is required to get the ball to the defendant’s 49 yard line.
Comment: “Clear and Convincing” – a measure of proof requiring much more certainty than preponderance. Indeed, in Texas, it is statutorily and judicially defined as a “firm belief that the allegations are true”. This is an extremely high degree of certainty measure of proof that is used in child custody cases. Said another way, it is a required measure of proof that must be met to allow the government to come and take your child away from you or a neighbor’s child away from its parents. This measure means that it requires less certainty to take a child away from parents than it does to convict someone of a crime. Again, turning to our football field example, the government is now required to get the ball to the defendant’s 20 yard line, 10 yard line or even to the 1 yard line depending upon the personal “certainty level” required for you to have a “firm belief that the allegations are true.”
2. Mr. Juror No. 1, you are a parent so is Juror No. 2. The clear and convincing evidence measure protects you both and your children from being wrongly separated. That measure of certainty must be applied to the both of you the same way if there was a question about your fitness to raise your child. With that in mind, what % of certainty would you have to be convinced in order to allow the government to take your fellow juror’s child from him?
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3. Mr. Juror No. 2, same question, how certain in terms of % would have to be sure in order to allow Juror No. 1’s child from him?
4. Mr. Juror No. ___, I want you to think about the phrase “a firm belief that the allegations are true” which is the measure for the clear and convincing evidence standard. When something is “true”, how much of it can be false before we can say it is no longer true?
5. What then does the phrase “firm belief” mean to you in declaring that something is untrue?
Comment: “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” – the highest degree of certainty in our law. This is the measure needed to be overcome in order to label someone a criminal for the rest of their life. Remembering our football field example, this requirement can be likened to the entire length of the football field where the government goal line to goal line is not enough to convict. Failure to get beyond the defendant’s goal line is an automatic default verdict of not guilty.
Comment: Our law provides that reasonable doubt can come from three places:
from a conflict of evidence;
from a lack of evidence; and,
from the evidence.
6. In regard to “conflicts of evidence”, Mr. Juror No. _____, do you understand that if we had a case where a person failed a breath test, but you saw a video that was made close to the same time that showed no impairment, that the video can be a basis of reasonable doubt for you that the test result was wrong?
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7. On a “lack of evidence”, Mr. Juror No. _____, do understand that if we had a case where a person failed a breath test, that the government expert said that the machine was properly working, that if you were not convinced enough that it was correctly working or that the witness was not convincing enough to you, that you can use those facts for reasonable doubt?
8. And finally, on the “from the evidence” idea, that, in a proper case, where a non- police witness said he saw a defendant’s video taped sobriety test session, and that because they know that defendant normal mental and physical abilities, and they say the driver was not intoxicated, that you use that testimony as reasonable doubt?
9. Do you think simply because a police officer or machine says something, that you must accept it? Explain.
10. How does beyond a reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence work together?
11. Understanding the presumption of innocence and the constitutional requirements of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, can we convict a person of a crime where we have only:
● a reasonable suspicion?
● a probability they did it?
● 51% of the evidence leans to guilt?
● a firm belief the allegations is true that the person did commit the crime?
● a reasonable doubt?
Comment: “Normal v. Average and Normal Range” – the definition of intoxication in Texas for DWI purposes is where, because of alcohol, a drug or a controlled substance, a person drives while they have lost the normal use of their mental or physical abilities. The normal abilities you are going to examine will be those of Mr. Defendant.
1. Mr. Juror No. _____, supposing we take this row of jurors and we make believe you all have a normal shoe size 8. We will do the same with the next row except we will give them all a size 10.
● what would the average shoe size for the jury?
● would it be normal for juror ___ to wear a size 9?
● would it be fair, comfortable or even safe to require all of you to wear a size 9 shoe?
● can we agree that normal does not mean average?
2. When it comes to what is normal for a person in regard to their mental or physical abilities, are they always the same for that person?
● does an older person generally have the same strength and coordination they had in their youth? Explain.
● does a person have the same mental and physical snap at all times of just one day?
● waking up vs. the middle vs. the end of the day?
● Why do athletes warm up?
Comment: Normal is not some static point on a 1 ft ruler like the 6” mark.
Rather, normal is a range, for example, from the 4” to the 8” mark.
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3. With the presumption of innocence in mind, are you allowed to presume that Mr. Defendant’s normal abilities are those of the average person? Can you presume if he was not average that he was not normal? Explain.
Comment: No. The presumption of innocence requires that you presume he had and displayed his normal mental and physical abilities which does not necessarily mean is average.
4. Some people say the exercise of good judgment is proof of no loss of normal mental abilities while others say not it is not. What do you think?
1. What do you know about the accuracy and reliability of the breath test machine? Comment: In Texas, a driver is generally allowed to decline to take a blood, breath and urine test. There are exceptions where a judicial warrant or a statute does authorize a compelled taking of blood but those are not applicable here. No law requires you to assume/presume guilt or that a license will be suspended because a driver refused
to submit to a breath or blood test.
2. Would your opinion on the breath test machine be changed if you learned that it was never warranted by its manufacturer to be fit for breath testing on humans, but rather, was only warranted for parts and labor? Explain.
3. Would you allow your children to have lasik eye surgery on a machine that was warranted just for parts and labor? Explain.
4. Would you allow your children to have lasik surgery on an unwarranted machine where, in addition to possibility your child’s vision might be harmed, that if a problem
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arose, you could be punished with 6 months in jail, a $2,000.00 find and a year loss of your license? Explain.
Comment: The punishment for DWI can be as much as 6 months in jail, a $2,000.00 find and a year loss of your license.
5. As an innocent person, what would be your biggest fear of taking a breath test you knew nothing about?
6. As an innocent person, how could you best protect your innocence when asked to take a breath test?
7. Assume with me the following hypothetical facts are true. The IRS, to save space, has instituted a new tax procedure where they seize all of your records, compute your tax, destroy your records, and then send you your tax bill. Explain your thoughts on the fairness of this procedure.
8 What are thoughts on a police practice or policy that where written statements are made by citizen defendants which explain their actions that the officer reads the statement, destroys it, and then writes what he thought it said in his report?
9. What possible reasonable justification could the police have for not preserving the citizen/defendant written statement?
10. Assume with me that it cost about one dollar to preserve a breath test specimen for retesting, what possible reasonable justification could the police have for not offering a citizen/defendant the choice of preserving his breath sample where the citizen pays the dollar?
11. Can you tell me some innocent reasons why an innocent person might not take a breath test?
12. Having talked about machine mistakes, lack of breath sample preservation, lack of warranty, maximum punishments, would it be an exercise of good or bad judgment to decline a breath test? Explain.
Comment: It is not against the law to consume alcohol and drive. It is only against the law to drive while you are intoxicated.
Comment: It is not against the law to have a breath/blood test result of greater than .08. It is only against the law to have that result when a vehicle is being operated.
1. Who has not consumed alcohol in the past twelve months? Six months? Three months? Why?
2. Who has had prior criminal jury service? Prior DWI jury service? Who did punishment, the judge or jury?
3. Who has worked with law enforcement or has a very close friend or relative in law enforcement?
4. Who has been involved in an automobile accident or had a close family member or close friend involved in an automobile accident where alcohol has been involved?
5. What would you think about a law that said everyone that consumed alcohol and then drove was automatically guilty of DWI?
6. What would you think about a law that said everyone who consumed alcohol and committed the traffic offense(s) of _____________ (insert the offense for which your client was stopped) was automatically guilty of DWI?