Jury Selection-What’s the Goal?

Of all the areas of trial work, this is probably the most difficult and important task that confronts a courtroom attorney. I have seen many different approaches used in questioning and selecting a jury. Your time is limited and the stakes are high. If you “guess’ incorrectly you can lose your case before it even begins. While there are several tasks to accomplish during jury voir dire, uncovering biases is the most important. The information gathered can be used to remove a potential juror for cause because of bias or the failure to satisfy the statutory requirements to sit and judge a case.

Grounds for cause can include the inability to read, see or hear, lack of English literacy, personal bias, preconceived opinions on a case that cannot be put aside, personal knowledge of the underlying facts or the parties, a family relationship to a party within so many degrees, and religious or ethical reasons that prohibit a person from sitting in judgment of another or rendering punishment. Most states have jury rules and/or statutes that outline grounds for excluding a juror for cause. You need to be familiar with them and be ready to specifically cite to the rules or statutes as needed. To this end, you really need to enlist the aid of the jurors themselves, especially where the Court has limited your time for questioning jurors.

I usually will say something like this early on in the selection process:

I have limited time to speak with you today and I may not be smart enough or have enough time, to ask the right questions to learn what I need to know about your background. I really need your help. I know it’s not easy to say for you to say that “there is something in my background that might not make me the best of person to sit on this type of case.” It takes a lot of courage to admit this sort of thing about yourself. So ask you to please help me and my client by letting me know if there is anything that you know of in your background that you think I should know. Please let me know if there is anything which could affect your ability even a little to sit as a juror in this case?

This usually will get people talking. I always compliment the person for their honesty and candor. I try to cover burdens of proof and make sure that the jury will not have a problem (even a little) in obeying the Court’s instructions and including money for all items of damage including pain and suffering or loss of services. I will also check for any areas of expertise that a witness might have which could come to bear and make sure that they will decide the case based upon the expert testimony in court and not be their own expert. This would be unfair because i would have no chance to question them or examine their opinion. I will usually ask something along the following lines to see if the juror’s expertise will pose a problem:

If our expert testifies to a principle or opinion which based upon your training or experience you know is incorrect, can you put aside your own personal knowledge and decide this case solely based upon the evidence presented in court? Would you be unable to ignore what you have learned outside the court room in decide what to do?

I also look for who the leaders are on the jury panel. They will either lead the others or hold out and hang your jury. You should look at the person’s education, job, civic involvement and standing in the community. I simply ask :

Have you ever held a position of leadership at work or as part of an organization or club?

Leaders are most likely to end up being the foreperson. As a federal judge once told me, if you can pick the foreperson, you can usually predict the verdict. Good luck in selecting your next jury. I hope these thoughts help you in selecting your next jury.
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Posted on August 15, 2011, in Jury Selection, Trial Advocacy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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