Meet Your Next Jury Panel

Jeff Gamso writes about birthers, (political) teabaggers, truthers, Flat-Earthers, alien abductees, and other unshakeable believers in alternate realities (21% of New Jerseyites surveyed weren’t sure that Barack Obama is not the Anti-Christ). What set Jeff off is that Arlington, Tennessee Mayor Russell Wiseman is one of these nutjobs.

What sets me off is that lots of our potential jurors are these nutjobs (do you think more people in Texas, or in New Jersey think the President is the Anti-Christ?). These folks hold political and philosophical views because “there’s no proof to the contrary” (à la Glenn Beck).

Our jurors are people like Patricia Roberts of Bellaire, Texas, who writes to the Houston Chronicle:

How does Tiger Woods get away with refusing to talk to the police about his accident? If it was anyone who was not rich and famous, he or she would be in jail by now.

I’m not even certain I know where to start talking with these people, to try to uncover the nuttiness that might hurt my client’s case. “How many of you believe things because of the absence of proof to the contrary?”?

I despair.

7 Comments

  1. Interesting issue you raise about weeding out those who aren’t on ANYONE’s page. Usually, however, I’ve found that there are so many clear red flags that come out in voir dire and I so crave a good DEADLOCK on bad facts cases, that it’s not at the top of my list.

    However, this is my favorite tale: “What medications are your currently taking?” is a great revealer on a jury questionnaire. [It’s clear we get those questions for all the legal authority I cite in Practical Jury Dynamics, since many meds make a juror incompetent.]

    Murder trial, we brought into chambers potential jurors on the most worrisome meds. One juror reported taking a med for psychosis. The following actually happened:
    JUDGE: So, Mr. Smith, your questionnaire says you are taking a prescription medication, X. Why do you take it?
    POTENTIAL JUROR: Well, my doctor says I’m paranoid.
    [Silence in chambers]
    POTENTIAL JUROR continues: But I know he’s just out to get me!

    Get to know your potential jurors.

    SunWolf @JuryTalk

  2. In some cases, I am thankful for these folks… the “CSI effect” can be rather helpful at times, especially when faced with the unlimited checkbook that the State has for scientific evidence.

    On the other hand, you are entirely correct to be concerned. I wonder whether our efforts to increase democratization of the jury pool has not left us with this unintended consequence. While that might be quite impolitic to say, I believe that there is ample evidence to support the theory – at least there is no proof to the contrary LOL.

  3. I too have tried to figure out how to talk to the online blowhards. The local newspaper allows anonymous comments and any crime related story draws them like moths to a light. The online consensus around here is that A) everyone is guilty or they wouldn’t have been arrested; B) no punishment is too tough; and C) we don’t need to bother with juries, they just let guilty people off and cost everyone too much time/money.

    I’m wondering if I should add to my voir dire “do you participate in any online forums that discuss local issues?”

  4. The comment about Tiger Woods by the “potential juror” is indeed frightening, but not only for its implications for due process, as Gamso demonstrates. The idea, embraced by most, that they are required to speak to police, shows how sorely uninformed most people are about their civil liberties. Police and other administrative agencies capitalize on misconceptions such as these to intimidate people into providing self-incriminating information. One would think that basic rights such as these would be taught as a primary goal in high school civics classes; alas, reading comments to news articles regarding crimes demonstrates that most (at least those that comment) don’t have a clue about the basic legal principles on which the US is founded.
    But the lack of understanding and misconceptions applies to many other arenas as well, as Gamso points out. Surveys about evolution, whether the sun orbits the earth, the existence of UFOs and Ghosts, etc give long pause. It’s fortunate that beliefs about these matters don’t have practical implications for peoples’ lives; but the lack of ability to think critically will come back and bite when faced with real world situations, such as science, or court. Scary indeed.

    1. Absolutely true. Ms. Roberts, or one of her loved ones, will some day get crosswise with the police and will talk herself into a box because of the ignorance she demonstrated in her letter to the Chronicle.

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