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Twelve Angry Jurors (and four alternates)
November 30, 2012 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Tell me all the secrets of voir dire.

I recently spent four fascinating weeks on a jury for a murder trial. Witnessing our legal process in action was incredibly educational, but I keep wondering about the first three days of voir dire, when the prosecution and defense went through about a hundred potential jurors. My research has turned up articles like this one, but I'm interested in the nitty gritty -- the little "tells" that a jury selection expert might look for. (The defense had a guy watching us like a hawk the entire time.)
posted by roger ackroyd to Law & Government (7 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
One thing to remember as a trial lawyer doing voir dire is that jurors notice who gets kicked and who does not, and their views and opinions of the case and of the lawyers are shaped by their perceptions of who is kicked and who is put on the jury.

Early in my career, I was involved with a trial in a commercial contract case where the lead trial counsel on our side identified a prospective juror early on who he figured the other side would not want on the jury for a variety of reasons. He knew she wouldn't be on the jury, so he targeted his voir dire questions to ask questions about her views on fairness and justice, discovering that she had family in law enforcement and the military, and that as a result she believed that it was of utmost importance that people follow the law, keep their commitments, and that justice be served. Then our opposing counsel quietly challenged the prospective juror, who was taken off the panel. His reasons for the challenge had nothing at all to do with our side's questions.

After the verdict in our favor, when the attorneys had an opportunity to talk with the jurors, several of the jurors mentioned that their decision was based in large part on their perception that our opposing side simply did not respect justice, fairness, and the rule of law. They even mentioned our opposing counsel's challenge of that prospective juror.
posted by The World Famous at 12:03 PM on November 30, 2012 [33 favorites]


I once heard Niel DeGrasse Tyson give roughly this story along The World Famous' lines but from a juror perspective live on stage.
======================
Searching for it it turns out he also has another related story along the same lines
posted by Blasdelb at 12:28 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every juror wonders this. And the answer is that once jurors with obvious biases are identified and eliminated, there's far more art than science to voir dire. I've been involved in trials for over a quarter century now, and I am deeply underwhelmed with juror selection "experts," whose decisions have far more to do with stereotyping and demographic generalities than anything reliable.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as intuitive intelligence, which attorneys have in varying degrees. Some people are just better at perceiving and understanding other people . . . and the more skill people have with that sort of empathetic understanding, the better the conduct of voir dire and their decisions on challenges tend to be.

Here is one secret that many lawyers and jurors don't figure out: the most effective voir dire tends to be the type that trots out case weaknesses. This both identifies the jurors that have to go and immunizes other jurors from the shock of having bad facts suddenly emerge in trial.
posted by bearwife at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


One interesting point that may be useful is that not everywhere does public voir dire, where you realize who is challenged and why. I actually just did jury service recently, and was one of twelve actually going through the voir dire process to choose jurors. After the questioning, both counsels stepped outside, returned, and simply called off the names of the jurors who would actually be on the jury, without actually saying who was challenged by what side. It was all done behind closed doors.
posted by corb at 12:44 PM on November 30, 2012


Check out twitter feed of jury expert Dr. Sunwolf. http://twitter.com/JuryTalk
posted by larrybob at 1:08 PM on November 30, 2012


A lot of lawyers try to get a feel for past experiences which might influence a juror on a case. This strategy is pretty intuitive -- if you're representing the plaintiff in a catastrophic motor carrier collision, you want as many people on the jury as possible who have known people who have been involved in car accidents, because they are more likely to be sympathetic.

Another strategy is to ask more opinion-type questions to get a feel for biases. I had a medical malpractice case a while back and one of the attorneys doing voir dire asked some of the potential jurors their opinions on Healthcare Reform. This helped reveal some people's opinions about the medical profession in general, and the sort of opinion they have about doctors.

Funny voir dire story -- A friend of mine worked for several years as a capital defense lawyer (working for a non-profit representing death row inmates in their appeals). She herself was later called up for jury duty and it happened to be on a violent criminal case. The lawyers performing voir dire asked a series of questions in which the pool was asked if they've known anyone who has ever been accused of: Robbery? Armed Robbery? Assault? Aggravated Assault? Battery? Rape? Murder? and so on and so forth, and she had to raise her hand every time!
posted by Illiterate Savant at 1:27 PM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


This book might be helpful:

Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior--Anytime, Anyplace by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Wendy Patrick Mazzarella

Dimitrius was the jury consultant for the defense during OJ Simpson's murder trial.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_jury_selection
posted by 99percentfake at 1:47 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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