Monthly Archives: June 2011

All Eyes on You & Your Client

I’ve been following the Casey Anthony trial daily for a few reasons.  For one, I know the consultants working on the case so I’m always watching for any tv interviews they decide to do.  Second, I’m intrigued by the case just like the rest of the nation.  Third, it’s always interesting to me to see how the media portrays trials.

While listening, I have heard news commentators talk often about seeing Casey’s parents and brother in the elevator.  The commentators discuss their demeanor and speculate as to what that means – do they really think their daughter is guilty?  Are they all uniting to save her from the death penalty?  Is Casey’s mom journaling during trial or taking notes to rehearse her testimony?  Just now, I heard a commentator talk about how Casey’s brother, Lee, was seen eating by himself at a sandwich shop during a lunch break.  Discussion followed regarding whether that meant that he was distancing himself from his parents, are they now not as united?  The speculation is unreal – and this is all regarding family members, not the defendant herself (who definitely does not evade scrutiny as every eyebrow raise and tear is analyzed).

There is an important message in this.  Although this is a major publicized trial, do not for one second think that jurors in your case think any differently.  To them, the case they sit on is a major trial.  They will analyze every movement from you, your client, and your client’s friends or family.  If jurors see you or your client outside the courtroom, they will be watching, taking it all in, and speculating.  It all feeds into their stories.  So…be very careful of what you say and do.  Make sure your client and his/her family knows how to act in and out of the courtroom.  Nothing goes unnoticed.

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Filed under Misc

Group Dynamics & Jury Selection

When you are selection (or de-selecting) jurors, it is easy to focus on individual jurors to the point that you forget about how jurors are going to interact with one another.  Individual characteristics are extremely important, but so are group dynamics.  Consider, for example, the two following scenarios:

  1. You pick a jury of 12 and during deliberations, 11 are in your favor.  Through some discussion and persuasion, that one bad juror finally either gives up and gives in or is persuaded.  You win the case.
  2. You pick a jury of 12 and again, 11 are in your favor.  This time, however, the one holdout juror refuses to engage in discussions with the other 11 jurors.  She refuses to listen, to participate, or to be open-minded.  You just won yourself a hung jury.

Jury group dynamics do matter and there are some things you should watch for.  Observe which jurors are talkative and which ones keep to themselves.  If there is one juror who seems to sit by him/herself and not engage as much as other jurors, that could be your holdout.

There is also some reason to try to get a couple of jurors of the same ethnic or racial background on the jury together.  Research has shown that one person with certain views left to themselves in a group is much less likely to speak their mind than if they have just one other person on their side.  If the case has any racial implications and you want a certain voice to be heard, give them a backup voice.

If you have two strong leaders, consider whether they will be opposing or cohesive.  If you leave any leader on the jury, be sure they are on your side.  It is one thing to risk leaving a follower on the jury who may be against you, but a strong leader can be deadly.

As you question jurors, watch others for head nods and body language that speaks to their own individual agreement or disagreement with that statement, but also for indications of whether that juror is interacting non-verbally with the juror being questioned.  At all times, be aware of the dynamics.  Obviously, you cannot pick your ideal jury so you cannot control all dynamics, but make sure it is on your radar.

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Filed under Voir Dire

Tips for Conducting Post-Trial Juror Interviews

When trial is finished, and particularly if it did not go well, you may be inclined to conduct some post-trial interviews with the jurors.  Since jurors may be inclined for various reasons (discussed below) to either lie to you or give curt answers, you need to be aware of some interviewing tips and methods if you are going to get useful, accurate answers to your questions.

The following are barriers to getting full and honest responses, followed by methods to help eliminate these issues:

1. Jurors just want to go home.  Immediately following the verdict, jurors may agree to sit in a room with you to answer questions but in many cases, they really just want to go home and get back to their lives.  They may not speak up in a group in order to make the interview progress more quickly.  It is often better to contact jurors in the days following the end of trial and ask for some of their time over the phone (or in person if they would prefer) at a time that is convenient for them.  Do not conduct your phone calls during weekday evenings or on Sundays at first.  If you are not getting a response, you can try those times and leave a voicemail.  If you have trouble getting jurors to return your calls, you may want to offer them $50 cash as an incentive.

2. Jurors don’t want to tell you the truth to your face.  No one likes saying bad things about someone to their face.  If jurors did not like you, they may say so in some fashion during post-trial interviews if you are the one interviewing them, but trust me, they are much more candid with a third-party doing the interviewing.  Even better if they do not know which side the person calling works for.  If you don’t have the money to hire a trial consultant to do the interviews for you, have someone from your office call from a non-office phone.  If jurors ask who the caller works for, have them simply explain that they are happy to answer that and any other questions at the end of the interview, but because it can unconsciously bias the interview itself, they are not allowed to answer that up front.  Most jurors understand that and will continue with the interview.  You will be surprised at what they will say.

3. Your interview style leads jurors instead of opening them up to answer honestly.  The rules for interviewing are similar to those for voir dire.  Do 10% of the talking.  Ask open-ended follow-up questions (“Tell me more about that” or “What else?”).  Keep asking those questions until the juror says “that’s really all.”  Do not be afraid of silence.  I will often forewarn jurors up front that I may ask some questions that sound repetitive but it is not because I’m not listening to them; rather, it’s because some jurors don’t think of things the first time you ask or they interpret questions differently so I often get different responses.  I have yet to have a juror be angry or frustrated with me asking them to “tell me more” so often.

4. Make sure your questions don’t give you away.  If you want honest answers, you have to make sure jurors do not know which side you work for.  If you are consistently asking questions to understand why you lost or what you did wrong but do not balance the interview with questions geared at the other side, jurors will quickly pick up on your motive.  Ask what jurors thought of the plaintiff’s attorney, followed by what they thought of the defense attorney.  Ask what more they wanted to hear from the plaintiff, followed by what more they wanted to hear from the defendant.  Balance every question on both sides.

5. Ask the all-important end question.  At the end of the interview, ask if there is anything you have not asked about that they think would be important for you to know.  Some jurors will say “no,” some will say something about low juror pay or something else you may not be interested in, and some will say something really valuable.  Do not assume that you have asked all the right questions.

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Filed under Interviews