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Educating Juries in Sexual Assault Cases - Part 1: Using Voir Dire to Eliminate Jury Bias

NCJ Number
Christopher Mallios, J.D.; Toolsi Meisner, J.D.
Date Published
July 2010
7 pages
Based on research, journal articles, and authoritative publications, this article suggests ways to improve jury-selection techniques in sexual assault cases, so prosecutors can screen out individuals who accept rape myths as true.
One rape myth is that sexual assault is more likely to be committed by a stranger to the victim than someone she/he knows. Thus, it is appropriate that a prosecutor be permitted to ask potential jurors during voir dire (jury selection) whether they would be less likely to convict a defendant of rape if that defendant was a partner, friend, or acquaintance of the victim. Another question that should be posed to potential jurors is whether they are able to follow the judge's instructions regarding the definition of rape regardless of their personal beliefs. Another common rape myth is that victims can contribute to their sexual assault by wearing provocative clothing or engaging in seductive behavior. Prosecutors should be allowed to ask questions of potential jurors regarding whether they believe that a victim can be raped even if that victim consented to some intimate contact with the defendant prior to the sexual assault. Another common misperception of rape is that it is a momentary loss of control over sexual urges rather than an act of violence and aggression in which the perpetrator uses sex as a weapon to gain power and control over the victim. Prosecutors should determine whether a potential juror views rape as the result of a man being unable to control his sexual drive. Other rape myths that must be addressed in voir dire are that rape victims must have incurred injuries in order for rape to have occurred and that rape is unlikely to have occurred if the victim delayed reporting it to police. 36 notes