A few days ago, I discovered an editorial piece titled, “Jury Duty: My Day at the Wake Justice Center.” The author, Jessica Patrick, was summoned for jury selection in a criminal trial, and she wrote a short article reflecting upon her experience. There is really nothing surprising in her views, but there were a few quotes that, in addition to my personal experience interviewing countless jurors, busted a few myths that still exist about the venire panel.
Myth #1: People hate jury duty.
While most jurors certainly aren’t too keen on the disruption to their daily routine, many jurors are committed to fulfilling their duty to serve. And believe it or not, some even look forward to learning more about the judicial process.
I knew that it was my “duty” to go. Missing a day of work wasn’t ideal but, besides that, I didn’t mind the summons. I appreciate new experiences and was looking forward to my first real glimpse inside our justice system.
Myth #2: Jurors don’t pay attention to what others say during voir dire.
Yes. They. Do. In fact, jurors are probably more involved than you think. But (yes, there’s always a “but”), maintaining a juror’s attention and keeping things interesting rests wholly on your shoulders. A good voir dire is as easy as having a casual conversation with jurors. But don’t forget that it’s a conversation with a clear purpose: to identify those who might be biased or otherwise unlikely to embrace your trial story. Jurors like participating, but it’s up to you to make that happen.
Listening to this back-and-forth between both parties, the judge and the jurors was the most interesting part of my day.
Myth #3: Jurors can’t fully appreciate the impact of bias.
Actually, they can… assuming counsel takes the time to address the issue. Simply telling jurors that someone exhibiting a “bias or prejudice would not be a good juror” will likely fall on deaf ears, and could very well alienate a number of panel members. Explaining why certain feelings, views, or experiences can “get in the way” of evaluating the evidence is a must. And illustrating the “why” with real-life, universal examples will have a much greater impact on the panel.
I knew that this questioning process was an important part of jury selection, but hearing the different questions and learning just how much the individual experiences of each potential juror could negatively affect the fairness of the overall decision was fascinating.
Myth #4: Voir dire is not evidence.
While technically and legally true, make no mistake: jurors form impressions from the moment voir dire begins. In fact, sometimes these first impressions are so strong that all new information (e.g., actual evidence) is filtered through that initial perception. Even in a criminal trial, where counsel is more limited in what can be shared with the panel, jurors enter the box with strong opinions about who’s who, the conduct of the parties, and the validity of the claims. What jurors hear may not be evidence, but it’s absolutely influential.
Of course, I didn’t get to see any evidence or hear any testimonies, but the rigorous jury selection process, surprisingly, revealed many details of the crime.
Myth #5: There’s nothing to learn from a dismissed panel member.
As relieved as a juror may be to hear, “You’re dismissed” from the Judge, don’t forget that he has still formed opinions about what he’s heard. Many times, dismissed jurors want to talk about what they thought about the process, and some are so intrigued that they want to know how the story ends. If you’re in a venue where the court will allow parties to contact dismissed jurors, that’s an excellent way to measure knee-jerk reactions to the claims. But before making any sort of contact whatsoever, clear it with the court and the local rules.
I found jury duty, and my day at the Justice Center, to be educational. And, after spending hours of my day just listening and observing, I can’t help but feel somewhat invested in the case and will, most certainly, follow it to see the final decision.
Believe it or not, I actually have jury duty tomorrow. It’s always fun to experience the process from the “other side of the bar.” Wonder if anyone will want to pick my brain after I get dismissed? Ummm… I mean, if I get dismissed.