My recent post, Is There a Perception Problem with the American Jury System?, busted the most common myth about jury duty: that everybody hates it.
In this blog post, I’d like to bust four additional myths about juries and jurors, all of which attempt to degrade the reputation of American jurors, and the justice system in general. I passionately believe it’s the best in the world, and that’s largely because Americans who serve on juries take their jobs very seriously.
So, fasten your seat belts while I bust a few more myths.
Myth: Jurors do not want to participate
Yes. They. Do. In fact, jurors want to be more involved than you think. But (yes, there’s always a “but”), maintaining a juror’s attention and keeping things interesting rests wholly on the lawyer’s 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 enjoy being a part of the conversation, but it’s up to you to make it feel like a genuine give-and-take of information, instead of an interrogation.
Myth: Jurors cannot fully appreciate the impact of bias
Actually, they can – assuming counsel takes the time to address the issue. Many lawyers use boilerplate language to get this message across, and jurors typically tune it out. But the most effective communicators explain why certain feelings, views, or experiences can get in the way of evaluating the evidence fairly, impartially and in accordance with the law. Even better, they illustrate the “why” with real-life, universal examples that resonate with jurors.
Myth: Jurors don’t consider what’s said during voir dire to be “evidence”
Technically and legally, what’s said during voir dire isn’t evidence, but 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 federal or criminal courts, where counsel is typically 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 (and see) may not be evidence, but it’s definitely persuasive.
Myth: Jurors who are dismissed don’t want to talk
As relieved as potential jurors may be to hear the judge say, “You’re dismissed,” don’t forget that they formed opinions about what they heard before they bolted for the door. Many times, released jurors want to talk about what they thought about the process, and some are so intrigued that they have questions. And trust me, if that juror has a good question, you can be certain others do, too. If you’re in a venue where the court will allow parties to contact dismissed jurors, it’s an excellent way to measure knee-jerk reactions. But before making any sort of contact whatsoever, clear it with the court and the local rules.
It’s tempting to believe the conventional wisdom that everybody hates jury duty or that jurors are more swayed by style than substance. The good news is that, most likely, the jurors in your trials take their jobs seriously and will, when it’s all done, admit they actually enjoyed the process.
And, of course, just like death and taxes, jury duty is one of society’s great levelers: