St. Mary's Law Journal


In Texas, the right of an accused to have an impartial jury is firmly grounded in the voir dire process, the definitive goal of which is to empanel a fair and impartial jury. The right to a fair and impartial jury is bolstered by the voir dire examination. There have been large discrepancies over the types of questions which can be asked during the voir dire process. The court’s attempt to simplify the process of differentiating between proper and improper voir dire questions has “muddied the issue” for court participants and has resulted in the deprivation of a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial jury. Much of the confusion has been over commitment questions and when such questions are proper. The standard adopted in Standefer v. State presents a threat to a fair and impartial jury because, in deciding which types of commitment questions are proper, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals appears to be limiting the right to use a peremptory challenge. It is apparent the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had good intentions when it adopted Standefer and later when it modified the test in Barajas v. State. The court attempted to simplify the process of determining when a question improperly commits a prospective juror to a particular verdict. When the court in Standefer required proper commitment questions to lead to valid challenges for cause, it ignored one of the most important purposes of voir dire — examination so litigants can intelligently exercise both challenges for cause and peremptory challenges. Furthermore, Barajas’s failure to provide litigants with guidance as to whether a question is too factually detailed or overly broad, transforming voir dire into an impossible guessing game which further denies criminal defendants of their right to a fair and impartial jury.


St. Mary's University School of Law