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Sixth Amendment -- The Right to an Impartial Jury: How Extensive Must Voir Dire Questioning Be?

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 82 Issue: 4 Dated: (Winter 1992) Pages: 920-954
S R Friedman
Date Published
35 pages
In Mu'Min v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the sixth amendment right to an impartial jury and the fourteenth amendment right to due process of law do not mean that prospective jurors must be questioned regarding the publicity surrounding a certain criminal case nor be totally ignorant of the fact and issues involved. However, to be eligible, jurors must have no fixed opinions of the defendant's guilt or innocence.
The majority held that the trial judge must have the discretion to determine whether voir dire questioning has led to the selection of an impartial jury; the judge's decision must be afforded special deference in this matter. Four dissenting opinions argued that without the ability to extensively question jurors, defendants are stripped of their right to an impartial jury. Defendants bear the burden of proving impartiality, but they can only prove this with the assistance of questioning. In the Mu'Min case, the jurors affirmed their impartiality by silence, making it impossible for the judge to assess the credibility of their claims. This author argues that the majority failed to address the actual issue of whether the defendant's constitutional rights were compromised in this case. The Court improperly balanced the considerations of the suspect's sixth amendment right with the trial judge's control over the proceedings and also incorrectly applied precedent on the issue of juror impartiality. 240 notes