Trial began this week in the Jerry Sandusky matter, and I must admit, I’ve been following it closely. The process excites me. The allegations disturb me. The dynamics intrigue me.
The media (and a number of my friends) are very concerned with the fact that a number of jurors on the panel have ties to Penn State. While it’s certainly not ideal, you have to remember the trial venue. Finding a juror in Centre County without some sort of connection to Penn State would be like finding a juror in Washington, DC who didn’t have a connection to the government… or a juror in West Texas who had no tie to the oil and gas industry. It’s just not gonna happen. Can these jurors be “fair” despite their ties? Absolutely. They can (and I believe will) be fair. They will render a verdict based on the evidence, in spite of their love of Penn State.
The bigger issue for me is whether the prosecution and defense really took the time to delve into each individual’s personal life experiences and value systems. After all, that’s what matters. How do these jurors view life? What makes them tick? What experiences or beliefs do they have that might impact their ability to view the evidence with a clear lens?
According to Centre County’s Jury Commissioner, Hope Miller, 600 jurors were summonsed based on driver’s license and voter registration information. Included with the summons was a written jury questionnaire. Only 211 people returned the questionnaire… which according to Miller is a typical number.
What’s interesting? Ms. Miller stated that it was the “same questionnaire” that Centre County sends out “all of the time.” A list of 16 additional questions were apparently included to measure some of the jurors’ beliefs, but I have yet to find any reference to whether questions assessed jurors’ personal life experiences, values, beliefs, morals or judgments related to fundamental issues in the Sandusky case.
If counsel did not include such questions on the written questionnaire, how on earth did they determine whether a juror had any experience– directly or indirectly– with physical or sexual abuse? How did they determine whether jurors ever reported (or wanted to report) suspicions of abuse, or how jurors felt about false allegations of molestation?
I can tell you this: it would be a rare juror to talk about something so personal in a courtroom full of complete strangers. And it would be naive to think that none of the jurors in the Sandusky panel had any personal connection whatsoever to physical or sexual abuse. (And let’s not forget emotional abuse, but that’s another can of worms…)
Jurors have a hard time with the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s the foundation of our criminal justice system, yet it’s a challenging concept for many to embrace. Especially in a case where a community legend is accused of sexually molesting the very boys he was mentoring and trusted to protect. When you consider the challenges related to presumption of innocence and the fact that a large percentage of the public wants the death penalty for child molesters, the Sandusky case is the quintessential case for the use of a detailed, lengthy supplemental jury questionnaire in addition to extended attorney voir dire.
I’ve seen no reports that either party conducted in depth Q&A on these issues, motioned the court for a detailed supplemental jury questionnaire or extended oral voir dire. The failure to do any of these would most likely benefit the Prosecution.
Does that mean Sandusky’s attorneys failed to make such an argument or ask such queries? Not necessarily. But if they did?