In a recent episode of the popular legal drama, The Good Wife, the importance of selecting the right panel of jurors was highlighted as one of the primary characters stood trial for conspiracy to traffic drugs, facing a years-long jail sentence. As his attorney and the prosecutor debated the merits and possible biases of potential jurors, one stood out in particular as being favorable to the defendant and was selected.
However, in a twist only found in Hollywood, that juror was later revealed to have concealed a hearing problem and was promptly disqualified, leading to disastrous consequences for the defendant. Though this storyline is undoubtedly hyperbolic, it nevertheless underlines the importance of the process of jury selection to the outcome of trials today.
Known in legal terms as “voir dire,” jury selection, which tests the honesty of candidates as well as the tactical acumen of attorneys and prosecutors, is an essential part of the jury trial system. The process serves two purposes: first, to determine whether a juror’s biases or background is cause for a challenge; and two, to determine whether to exercise a finite number of challenges on that juror. While a juror has a duty to make full and truthful answers to the questions posed to him or her in voir dire, ultimately, it is up to the attorneys to decide the veracity of the answers and the benefits or detriment of having a particular individual sit on the jury panel.
Yet, despite rigorous questioning during the voir dire process, there can be circumstances in which it is later revealed that a juror has given misleading answers or falsified information. The Florida Supreme Court has held that a party is entitled to a new trial as a matter of law if it is able to show that: (1) a juror concealed information during voir dire, (2) the information concealed was relevant and material to the jury service in the cases, and (3) the nondisclosure was not attributable to the complaining party’s lack of diligence
Jury Consultants, A Growing Field
The importance of jury selection is evidenced in the rapidly growing field of jury consultants who help attorneys see a 360 view of possible candidates. As noted in a January 2015 article in the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal, the American Society of Trial Consultants has seen its members grow exponentially in the past decades, from 20 members in 1983 to around 300 members today. These individuals specialize in delving into the psychology of possible jurors: what biases they hold and how they absorb, evaluate, and retain information.
Today, modern technologies such as the Internet and an individual’s social media footprint makes it easier than ever to conduct due diligence on prospective jurors. However, the ABA has issued guidance that warns of “going too far” in researching jurors’ Internet presence. For example, while attorneys and jury consultants can make a possible sweep of a juror’s social media profiles, they cannot request access to see hidden or “private” portions of a Facebook account or LinkedIn page.
At The Pittman Firm, we are dedicated trial attorneys who are experienced in all aspects of the jury trial process. Call us today for a consultation on your case.