Jury selection is actually not a process of selection but one of elimination. At jury selection, defendants are allowed to strike two jurors for cause or and two for any reason other than race or ethnicity. The rules for jury selection have been modified in superior court since the following case, but in District Court, lawyers are limited in their ability to question jurors. They are allowed to review questionnaires and they can only request that the judge call individuals to the bench and question them based on responses that raise issues of the ability to be fair and impartial. In contrast, in other states, such as Florida, lawyers are allowed to stand in front of the jury panel (venire) and question them individually. This practice allows lawyers to get the true attitudes of those on the venire. In Massachusetts, when the judge asks general questions of the group, they respond as a group and do not necessarily give answers as they would if questioned individually.
In Commonwealth v. Reavis, the SJC affirmed the defendant’s conviction of first-degree murder for the stabbing death of his wife in the context of their highly volatile relationship. The Court rejected the defendant’s contention “that the judge abused his discretion in denying the defendant’s motion for individual voir dire of the venire with respect to their experience with domestic violence.” Although this case did not involve charges requiring individual voir dire (e.g., interracial murder or interracial rape), the defendant argued for that procedure because “domestic violence went to the heart of the case,” in that “the crime was ‘very gruesome,’ was committed ¼ in the presence of the couple’s children, and involved drugs and alcohol, as well as assertions of the defendant’s ‘paranoia’ about his wife being unfaithful.” Although the judge denied the defendant’s request for individual voir dire, he did “ask a general question whether any member of the venire felt so strongly against domestic violence that he or she would be unable to be impartial.” The judge’s rationale for rejecting individual voir dire was that “his more general question, unlike the defendant’s proposed questions, did not require potential jurors to identify that they had had any personal experience with domestic violence, whether as victims or otherwise¼. Unlike the situation requiring prospective jurors to identify themselves as having been sexually molested or as having some racial bias, the judge did not believe prospective jurors would be reluctant to answer the general question on domestic violence.” Despite its conclusion that the judge did not abuse his discretion, the SJC stated, “We do not intend to suggest that the procedure followed here, ¼ was necessarily the best practice. In many instances, individual voir dire on the issue of domestic violence may well be the more appropriate procedure.” And the Court added a cautionary note: “Before posing his general question, the judge told the venire that he presumed that most prospective jurors would be against domestic violence, and that his question was whether any prospective juror had such strong feelings that it would not be possible to be impartial. To the extent that such comments could be understood as discouraging prospective jurors from responding affirmatively to the posed question, they are better avoided.”