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alices
12-11-2006, 12:37 PM
Without going into too many details, I am working on a piece that involves detailing the jury selection process involving the death of a child by the mother alleged to be caused by shaking baby syndrome.

For example, requiring prospective jurors to complete an extensive questionnaire, and respond to direction questioning (Voir Dire) from the attorneys, with the express purpose of placing a juror based on a perceived advantage to one side or the other. This practice, obviously case dependent, appears to be based on gender, race, economic background, etc.

Can someone tell me if professional profiling remains an accepted practice in jury selection?

Has anyone tried to challenge the practice, and if so what was the outcome?

Thanks for any inputs.

alleycat
12-11-2006, 02:42 PM
I've served on three juries (two murders and a robbery) and was called to a number of other trials for selection. We never had to fill out a questionnaire. We were always just questioned by the ADA and the defense attorney.

The questions asked to us were of a routine nature (Where do you work? Do you know the defendant? Will you be able to follow the extact intent of the law?). Since one of the murders occurred at an after-hours bar, we were asked about our drinking habits for that one. Sometimes one of the possible jurors would answer in some way that might indicate a bias and then one of the attorneys would ask the judge to remove that person without losing one of their own challenges. On these trails a professional jury consultant wasn't used; I think they are mostly used when the defendant has deep-pockets and can afford to use them, or when the trial is a high profile one with an opportunity for the defense attorney to advance his or her career.

For a trial like you indicated, I'm sure there would be a number of questions asked about children, parenthood, any personal experience losing a child, etc. They would want to know if someone can keep an open mind even if the trial involves a dead child. For example, I was called to jury selection on a child molestation case; I think they let me go because I was already thinking I'd like to see a child molestor convicted.

Gary
12-11-2006, 04:32 PM
I've been called to jury duty six times and served on perhaps a dozen cases that reached a decision, though none were murder cases.

Yes, I filled out a questionaire once. Some of the questions were annoying, but were nothing I had a problem disclosing. All it did was speed up the selection process, which is badly needed.

Jury selection is the ultimate profiling, because it legally assumes the person will be biased. What they can't determine is whether the person has any common sense and that deficiency was far too common in the deliberation process.

BradyH1861
12-13-2006, 06:48 AM
Never served on a jury, but I've testified many times. My poor mother gets picked every time she gets a jury summons. She is a retired schoolteacher.


Brady

greglondon
12-13-2006, 10:07 AM
Jury duty. Murder trial. Long.

The questions before hand for our case were numerous.

Do you know any of the following police officers? (insert long list) Do you know any of the witnesses? (insert long list) Do you the accused? Do you know the DA? The defense attorney? Did you hear anything about this case in the media? Does anyone in your family work for a police department? Do you have any biases? Do you have any prejudices? What do you do for a living? How long have you been working there. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Are you familiar with any of the following addresses? Would you be biased to tend to believe a police officer testimony over someone else? Would you be biased towards someone because of their race?

They went through hundreds of potentials over the course of a few days before they had 18 people who could serve on the jury.

I believe the attorneys for either side are supposed to be able to reject some small number of potential jurors for whatever reason, but other than that, I believe the judge wouldn't dismiss someone without good cause to believe they were biased. Given the massively large pool of potenials, and given the lawyers could only reject a small number of potentials wtihout any reason, I dont think it would be feasible to tilt the jury in any particular direction. That is sort of the whole point after all.

Linda Adams
12-13-2006, 03:38 PM
I served on a jury, too, and didn't have a lengthy questionaire either. Both lawyers asked questions of the jurors like "Do you know the victim or the defendent?" An interesting note: On one case, the plantiff's lawyer was not very good, and it showed in the way he asked questions, especially comparing to the lawyer for the other side.

Do you know any of the following police officers? (insert long list) Do you know any of the witnesses? (insert long list)? The cases I heard were small. They just pointed around the room and asked generally, without a long list.

Do you the accused? Do you know the DA? The defense attorney? Did you hear anything about this case in the media? Does anyone in your family work for a police department? Do you have any biases? Do you have any prejudices?

What do you do for a living? They asked this differently. As I recall, I think it was more along the lines of if anyone was in law enforcement or a lawyer?

How long have you been working there. Did not ask.

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? As I recall, they did not ask.

Are you familiar with any of the following addresses? Did not ask

Would you be biased to tend to believe a police officer testimony over someone else? Did not ask. But then, no police office was involved with either case.

Would you be biased towards someone because of their race? Did not ask.

Since both the cases were the same type--one was a stalking and the other sexual harrassment, they asked if jurors had ever been sexually harrassed or knew anyone who had been, etc.

Professional profiling, itself, is not something they'll do for every case. This is likely going to be for a very high profile case with a team of lawyers. I imagine it would be for a celebrity case that gets a lot of press or a big lawsuit like a drug manufacturer being sued by a bunch of people for many deaths. Those people can afford to throw money at the lawyers, and if nothing else, profiling will be something that is extremely EXPENSIVE. Not every case would merit having profiling, and certainly, it would be out of the price range of many people. A lawyer is not going to use personal profiling unless there are really big stakes (i.e., major company will lose billions) because it is so cost-prohibitive.

But one thing I did learn, and this may be helpful ... every state is going to be different in what they do. In Los Angeles, we got horrendously long trials. It would take weeks or months just to pick the jury. A friend told me a story about the place where I live (and this is county-specific, by the way). A number of years ago a celebrity was arrested in our county and his lawyer showed up in court. The lawyer said that it would take two weeks to pick the jury, and another month to try the case. The judge told him he would take four hours to pick the jurors, and two days to try to case. Most cases here NEVER take more than four days. A rare one is two weeks. Yet, we all know about cases like the O.J. Simpson one that lasted for nine months.

You can generally visit the court and watch a case in progress unless the case is closed to the public. If possible, you should especially try to do this in the county of the place where your story is set.

johnnysannie
12-13-2006, 05:44 PM
I've been called for jury duty thrice (three times) and have never been chosen to serve. There was no formal questionaire but a long voir dire in which I was always disqualified. The questions were slanted toward background, whether or not prospective jurors were familiar with the case, knew any of the participants including the judge, attorneys, etc, feelings and/or relationships with law enforcement, experience with similar events, etc.

Some of the things that in the end disqualified me were - on three different ocasions -
1. I worked in media at the time and knew far too much about the case (prior knowledge)
2. family relationships to law enforcement officers
3. experience with a similar type event with a close family member or friend
4. Familiarity with attorneys or the judge (i.e. in the same service club)

Gary
12-13-2006, 06:05 PM
I was dismissed from one jury selection during the 5th time I was called. I was getting irritated seeing others released while I was constantly being selected. With a daughter working for an insurance company and her husband being a cop, I was still accepted over people making up silly little things to be rejected.

The judge asked me if my previous experiences serving on a jury were good experiences. I told him that after the first few, they were not. When he asked why, I told him I had seen a lot of law being practiced, but precious little justice being dispensed.

I guess he didn't like having his system insulted, but my time was being wasted and my income affected while a bunch of wealthy lawyers played games. The usual result of those games was that criminals went unpunished and wealth was redistributed by ignorant, well-intentioned jurors.


Yes, I know it's the best system available, but if you haven't been part of the process, you can't begin to imagine how frustrating it is.

ideagirl
12-13-2006, 10:41 PM
(Voir Dire) from the attorneys, with the express purpose of placing a juror based on a perceived advantage to one side or the other. This practice, obviously case dependent, appears to be based on gender, race, economic background, etc. Can someone tell me if professional profiling remains an accepted practice in jury selection? Has anyone tried to challenge the practice, and if so what was the outcome

It doesn't really matter if you want to challenge it, because each side gets X number of jurors that they can dismiss for no reason--i.e. they don't have to say why they're dismissing the juror. So the other side has no way of knowing that they're dismissing juror #8 because of his profession. Only if they exceed their allotted number of freebies do they have to start explaining why they want a certain juror off the jury. And if they get to that point, kicking someone off because of their profession is probably not going to be a problem.

Of course, if they use all their challenges--even the ones where they don't have to explain their reasons--to kick black people or men or women or whatever off the jury, the other side would probably raise that as an issue. You're technically not allowed to dismiss jurors just because they're a member of a protected class (i.e. race, gender). I say "technically" because, of course, there's the X number of challenges that each side gets as "freebies" where they don't have to explain their reasoning; with those challenges, as long as it's not blatant that they're trying to keep all the blacks, whites, men, whatever off the jury, it'll probably be okay. (A good attorney might raise the issue before it becomes blatant--like they might say, "your honor, this is the second black juror he's trying to dismiss; there are only three left and my client the defendant is black, blah blah blah..." just to get it on the record and warn the other side that that won't be tolerated.)

That said, you ARE allowed to kick a juror off due to their religion, because that's relevant: if your religion is X, then your beliefs are XYZ, and those beliefs might get in the way of your ability to judge fairly. Like, a rabidly anti-abortion Evangelical Christian may have a problem if the defendant is charged with shooting a doctor who performed abortions. A militant Muslim might not be able to judge fairly if the defendant is a Muslim terrorist. A Quaker might refuse to impose the death penalty. And so on. So that's rational; excluding a juror because the values/beliefs they hold might skew their ability to judge fairly is generally allowed, even if those values/beliefs are religious in nature. But it's not rational to exclude black people or (insert race/ethnicity/gender here) just based on their race/ethnicity/gender, because the correlation between race/ethnicity/gender and the values/beliefs a specific individual holds is much much weaker than the correlation between religion and the values/beliefs a specific individual holds.

alices
12-13-2006, 11:16 PM
Thanks for the great inputs.

Just one clarification for ideagirl: My question on challenge was related to the basic practice of using a professional profiler, not the number of peremptory challenges available to the parties. Sorry I did not make that very clear.

The profiling practice is an obvious advantage to the people/company that can afford it, same with the quality of the legal team. The poor are at a distinct disadvantage!

Gary
12-14-2006, 12:09 AM
The profiling practice is an obvious advantage to the people/company that can afford it, same with the quality of the legal team. The poor are at a distinct disadvantage!

While the profiling practice might indeed be more accessible to the wealthy, there is a counter advantage for the poor.

Every single time we went into deliberation, when the accused was poor, that fact was raised and argued. Invariably, the assumption was that the lawyer in such cases was marginally to totally incompetent. I don't know how it affected the vote of all jurors, but I'd wager a higher standard of proof was expected from the prosecutor if the competency of the defense attorney was suspect. There is also a certain amount of social antagonism toward big companies and wealthy defendants that works against their case.

In my experience, the financial status of the accused was never a major concern, nor did it ever affect the decision. Social and cultural sympathy was far more influential.

alices
12-14-2006, 12:20 AM
...There is also a certain amount of social antagonism toward big companies and wealthy defendants that works against their case.

In my experience, the financial status of the accused was never a major concern, nor did it ever affect the decision. Social and cultural sympathy was far more influential.
The two statements seem to conflict, or am I reading it wrong? Of the cases I have studied, the juries seem to come down very hard, sometimes to the extreme, on the big companies and wealthy defendants.

Some recent punitive awards going into the hundreds of millions are crazy in my opinion.

Gary
12-14-2006, 01:40 AM
No conflict. While jurors might argue the situation during deliberation, in most cases the actual verdicts are not influenced to a measurable degree.

The problem arises when juries are allowed to determine the penalty. Since they have reached a fair verdict, if the corporation is found guilty of even minor charges, they have no qualms about awarding massive amounts of money.

I sat on one civil case where the innocence of the company was absolutely clear, yet one juror thought we should find for the plaintiff because he needed the money and the company had deep pockets. Her argument was that even if the defendants were innocent, they could afford to give the guy a few million. Fortunately, there were enough jurors who recognized the suit as a fraud.

alices
12-14-2006, 02:25 AM
Thanks for clarification.

ideagirl
12-15-2006, 04:10 AM
My question on challenge was related to the basic practice of using a professional profiler

Oh, I see. Yeah, that's definitely done when the attorney thinks it necessary and the client can afford it. It's not a problem.

All I was getting at with the talk of the number of peremptory challenges etc. was that, for that initial number of jurors that each side is allowed to dismiss without explanation, you're never going to know why the juror was dismissed; it could be for an illegal reason, but you'll never know.

In any event, a professional profiler is not likely to do something so crude as dismiss a juror solely because they're (insert race/ethnicity/gender here). You hire a professional profiler for much more complex and subtle calculations--they look at everything about the jurors: race, gender, age, religion, profession, educational background (every fact they can find out), and also everything the jurors do; I remember reading something by a profiler where she talked about how she pays attention to which jurors hold the door for other people and which don't, which ones are polite to strangers and which aren't, etc.; subtle personality traits like that. If you want a hanging jury, you try and keep the ones who are rude to strangers, don't hold doors, and so on--because that indicates lack of empathy.

veinglory
12-15-2006, 04:22 AM
I was challenged and bumped off the jury without a single question being asked. It may have been down to the purple daisy print mini-dress.

Soccer Mom
12-15-2006, 05:24 AM
I'm an attorney (criminal only). We use extensive written questionnaires. The prosecution doesn't use jury experts. (can't justify the expense) It's very rare, but high dollar defendants sometimes do. It's more common in civil cases.