On January 1, 2013, a new rule passed by the Supreme Court of Virginia governing voir dire in civil trials took effect. Rule 3:22A, in essence, will both expand and standardize the scope of questioning permitted during voir dire across all of Virginia’s circuit courts.
In the past, the scope of voir dire questioning was governed solely by Va. Code § 8.01-358. Although the statute provides theoretical guidelines for permissible questioning during voir dire, practically speaking, it was being interpreted differently in each trial court. Policy makers were concerned with the effect that varying interpretations of the statute were having on trial practice across the Commonwealth and felt the need for greater standardization and predictability.
In short, Rule 3:22A will allow attorneys to question potential jurors “as of right” whether any of them:
1) Is related by blood, adoption, or marriage to the accused or to the Plaintiff or Defendant;
2) Is an officer, director, agent or employee of the Plaintiff or Defendant;
3) Had any interest in the trial or the outcome of the case;
4) Has acquired any information about the case or the parties from the news media or other sources and, if so, whether such information would affect the juror’s impartiality in the case;
5) Has expressed or formed any opinion about the case;
6) Has a bias or prejudice against the Plaintiff or Defendant; or
7) Has any reason to believe the juror might not give a fair and impartial trial to the Plaintiff and Defendant based solely on the law and the evidence.
Most importantly, the rule’s “as of right” language gives lawyers a legal basis to insist on questioning jurors on their “qualifications as an impartial juror” even if a judge is trying to rush through the voir dire process. The rule also gives lawyers greater latitude on the types of questions they are permitted to ask potential jurors. The new rule serves as a great opportunity for lawyers to become more creative with the questions they ask in order to more effectively probe for potential bias amongst the venire.
A full copy of Rule 3:22A is available online at the Supreme Court of Virginia’s website: