Tomorrow is the thirteenth day of jury selection in a capital felony case I am attempting to try this year. We've got twelve jurors. We are now looking for three alternatives. Jury selection began in the case on January 4, and we have been given several days off to attend to other matters; the original judge also fell ill, and we have been assigned a new judge.
And the funny thing is, no one in the courthouse seems to think that there is anything wrong with the pace at which this case is moving.
Welcome to Connecticut, where we engage in a practice known as individual sequestered voir dire. Alone among the states, we routinely question each potential juror outside the presence of all other jurors. Lawyers conduct the voir dire. There are few limits on what can be asked.
My case involves sad and emotionally charged facts. A 15-year-old girl turned up missing in May 1996. According to the state, she has not been seen since. My client was charged in 2008 with kidnapping, raping and murdering the young woman. There are no witnesses to the alleged crimes, but there are statements from jailhouse informants. The case is being tried in the eastern portion of the state, where communities are tightly knit. Although the state has charged capital felonies in my case, it is not seeking the death penalty. Jury selection in this case was bound to be difficult.
As slow as we are moving, however, we are sprinting through voir dire by contrast to the case of State v. Hayes. Mr. Hayes is one of the men charged with the home invasion, rape, murder and arson of a popular physician's home. The state is seeking death in that case. And after nine days of jury selection in the Hayes case, the lawyers have selected nine jurors. Evidence in the Hayes case is set to begin in September.
No other state engages in individual sequestered voir dire as a matter of right. Connecticut's federal courts engage in group voir dire. I am aware of no empirical evidence, or even any anecdotal evidence, that our slow-as-molasses method of picking jurors yields more reliable outcomes at trial.
The Connecticut Bar Association is forming a task force to study whether justice is served by state's quaint and wasteful manner of picking jurors. I hope the CBA recommends change. The manner in which the state picks jurors promotes nothing but waste.