9 Things you should know about Juries!
How the Court Selects Jurors and the Effects They Have on Convictions!
Mairead Connelly, Katerina DeSimone, Alina Marino, Nicole Petty, and Griff Wood
In 1993, in a small community in West Memphis Arkansas, three young boys were brutally murdered and their bodies were left behind in a canal just outside the town line. The three alleged murderers, also known as the West Memphis Three, were tried and convicted of this harsh crime. Still teenagers themselves, they faced the wrath not only of the town but the court itself. In a town with such a small population and an unthinkable crime, the police and the community were desperate to find answers. The blame for this crime fell on the three young men who didn't quite fit the towns norms. The jury selected for the case were members of the community themselves and had their own predetermined beliefs prior to ever hearing the case. No matter how much the defense pointed to their innocence, the three young men stood no chance against the 12 jurors who already had their minds made.
1. What is Scientific Jury Selection?
By definition, Scientific Jury Selection or SJS, is a method of selecting juries through various surveys that show the correlation between the demographics and attitudes relevant to the trail. SJS has become more prominent within today’s society, being used in almost all major litigations since trial consultants are hired.
Jury consultants focus their questions on…
- The background characteristics of the jury pool, including sex, age, race, marital status, income, and job.
- The beliefs and attitudes of the juror that would be likely to be connected to a favorable or unfavorable verdict.
- Which verdict the survey respondent would favor after looking at a summation of facts regarding the case.
2. Lawyers Can Reject Jurors
Peremptory challenges are a process through which trial lawyers can reject a possible juror without reason. This process normally occurs during the voir dire, a pretrial examination of possible jurors. In the past it had created problems when it was used to create an unrepresentative jury, such as in the case of Snyder v. Louisiana. In this case, Snyder was an African American male, whose trial was held before an all white jury after the prosecution had rejected five African American jurors.
During the voir dire process, attorneys strive to achieve 4 main goals: eliciting information from jurors, developing rapport with jurors, educating jurors on key concepts, and persuading jurors to view the case from their perspective.
To get effective results, the questions included should be more open-ended rather than a straight yes or no answer. When wording a question, attorneys should think about the most effective way in getting an individual’s personal opinion, rather than finding out their attitudes. More often than not, attitudes tend to change when put in a room with other individuals. Lawyers should be able to get a sufficient amount of information out of the potential juror to be able to determine if they will be for or against what he or she is trying to accomplish. Some of the questions asked can include their occupation, family life, lifestyle, feelings on drinking and driving and other felonies, etc.
4. Social Media
Social media accounts are now being used to help select jurors based on their perceived personality types. A recent review article discussing the role of social media in the courtroom reported that people who score high in the personality trait of openness, seek out new experiences and are open-minded in nature. These individuals, who can be identified by their high level of activity on social media platforms, are highly resistant to societal pressures and as such are considered the least likely to be influenced by another member of the jury. On the other hand, people high in conscientiousness are the most susceptible to being influenced by other jurors as they willingly consider and evaluate other’s opinions in order to reach a fair conclusion of their own. These individuals can be identified through their profiles on social media. They typically post about activities involving sports or physical activities, demonstrating a willingness to put time and effort into a situation, which implies that they will actively consider the different perspectives of their fellow jurors.
5. Influence of Jurors Life Experiences
Life experiences play a part in both selecting a jury and how that chosen jury comes to a final decision on a case. When choosing a jury, the attorneys will ask open-ended questions rather than yes or no questions to determine an individual’s opinions instead of their attitudes on certain topics. If a person is passionate about something that coincides with what the lawyer seeks for the outcome, then this individual is more likely to be chosen. If one of the jury members is less passionate than another, then they are more likely going to be persuaded by a person who has a closer personal experience to the subject of the case. Experiences influence every juror. Jurors turn to their own life experiences to determine what the outcome of the case should be and if they cannot relate to some of the information of the case, then they tend to pay little or no attention to it. If they can relate to other information of the case, then they focus the majority of their attention on that specific information.
6. Selecting a Jury of Cynics, Believers and Others
Each Juror comes with their own set of life experiences and beliefs, and it is important to sort these out in order to make up a group of individuals who will provide their neutral and fair opinion. There are four major groups of jurors that exist. We have the Cynics, who make up 43% of the population, who are characterized as having no confidence in any American Institution. Next group is known as the Believers. Making up 27% of the population, the Believers have a more optimistic view and tend to be less critical of individuals and American Institutions. The pro-Business and Underdogs make up the other two belief groups. Pro-Business believe in personal responsibility and the Underdogs believe in individuals rather than institutions. When looking to fill out a Voir Dire, lawyers have to be very careful with the types of questions they ask in order to pull out and set aside these specific beliefs.
7. Authoritarianism and Jurors Perceptions of Defendant
In a study done by Douglas Narby and Brian Cutler, it was discovered that Authoritarians are defined as ordered and rely on authority when making decisions. The studies main focus was on the association between Authoritarianism and jurors judging criminal cases, something that is essentially what the job of the juror is. Individuals with authoritarian characteristics, rely heavily on the rules and laws within a society for stability and discipline. In regards to administering a punishment, authoritarians are very likely to be stricter and punish those who break these laws very harshly. Individuals with Authoritarian beliefs are also very hostile towards outgroups such as Jews, Communists, Sexual offenders, and even members of women’s activist movements. Groups that fall outside the norms of a well-rounded powerful society, specifically consisting of great leaders and rules, face scrutiny. Authoritarians with either classic or modern approach focus on the traditional values, and are less understanding of individuals such as the homeless, which leads them to rely on the laws and rules as ways of fixing the issues.
8. There Are Gender Differences in Determining a Conviction
Prior to selecting a jury, the attorneys from both sides must look at the facts of the case before creating their voir dire. The types of crimes that were committed can have an effect on how certain jurors will side. When selecting members of a jury for a sexual assault case, it may be prudent for a prosecutor to select more female jurors than male jurors. According to a meta-analysis conducted in 1997, it was predicted via statistical analysis that 59% of women would vote to convict a defendant accused of sexual assault or child abuse whereas only 41% of men would vote to convict. As the jury in the West Memphis Three case consisted of seven female jurors and five male jurors, one has to wonder if gender differences played a role in the sentencing decision.
9. Race Affects Jury Decisions
Studies have found that race does play a role in the decisions of jurors. However, it might not be what you expected. In cases where race is a key issue, white jurors are more likely to actively try to eliminate any bias. This leads to less convictions and a more careful analysis of the information that is presented in trial. Surprisingly, in cases where race is not a key issue there can be more racial bias among jurors because they are not actively aware of their biases. This once again falls on the attorney to create an effective voir dire in order to eliminate these biases and create a fair jury.