Small Step Toward Scientific Jury Selection

Some numbers, perhaps of interest to nobody but me:

Panel average -0.15
Struck for cause average 0
Struck by defense average -0.02
Jurors sworn average -0.20
Struck by State average -0.69

Numbers are a measure of authoritarianism/egalitarianism based on scaled answers to eight questions, chosen unscientifically—according to how interesting they were to me. Lower numbers are more egalitarian, high numbers more authoritarian. The maximum and minimum possible scores were 5 and -5 1 and -1.

It is interesting that those struck for cause (lots of people couldn’t consider probation) and by the defense scored higher than the panel, and those struck by the State but not the defense (we had several double strikes) scored much lower than the panel.

The method needs refinement, but I think I might be on to something here.

(I didn’t spend my entire jury selection with this survey; it took about half my time. The other half I spent talking with the jurors.)

12 Comments

  1. Chris Downey spoke at a cle a few years ago on scorig jurors based upon 5 scaled questions. What are your thoughts on Juryquest?

    1. I’m interested in Juryquest; my understanding is that they guess at people’s authoritarianism based on their demographics (their database contains authoritarianism scores, based on some sort of survey, for people sorted by age, race, gender, and I think profession).

      In fact, JuryQuest still owes me a jury selection—I paid for their help, and then the case got dismissed.

      But I’m trying to cut out the middle man and the guesswork. Instead of saying, “Juror #8 is an Asian female engineer, so she’s probably more [authoritarian / egalitarian]” I can ask Juror #8 a set of questions that, if she answers honestly, will give me some idea of the authoritarianness of her attitudes (and therefore her beliefs behind those attitudes and, most importantly, her actions).

      The cost: a substantial chunk of jury selection time that might be better spent doing something out (this might be a great use for a written questionnaire); and the discovery of information in a form that is equally helpful to your adversary.

  2. I liked the questions and found them interesting. But unless they were on a written questionnaire passed out prior to jury selection, I think raw responses might be more valuable than sterile numbers. In other words, I would ask the questions to the panel as a whole, get someone to strongly agree or disagree, then find out who agrees with them, and why. Get a (brief) discussion going. I think a spirited debate is more likely to elicit honest, gut responses than a survey question they may or may not put any thought into answering. Plus, with a live discussion you get to hear the snorts and see the eye-rolls.

    1. That’s an excellent suggestion. Some great advantages to doing it that way.

      One downside is that you don’t get the same type of data from everyone. My survey didn’t allow anyone to hide in the corners; they could give bad data (all 5s; all 3s), but that provided a different sort of valuable information.

      Maybe next time I’ll combine both—use some of the statements as discussion triggers, and some to get data from everyone.

  3. Depending on the judge, you may not have time for the discussion. Is there a legal basis that these questions can not be asked ? I have had an objection sustained to similar questions. The basis stated was the evasive “improper voir dire.”

  4. I was on a the panel when you used this jury selection process. #6 – on the front row. I found it very interesting. The hardest part was, after giving an answer, hearing a question posed and then wondering if I had given the best answer for my views.

    This was my first time to ever sit on a panel and I, honestly, was disappointed not to have been selected. When the trial is over, is there a way I can determine, just for my own curiosity why I was struck?

    The case seemed very interesting, with lots of intricate details.

    I have been looking for information about the outcome and have yet to see any.

    1. Cindy, thank you for commenting.

      My notes reflect that one side or the other struck you “for cause”—there was some aspect of the law that you could not follow. Beyond that, I don’t recall—my notes don’t show what the basis was. Some examples of challenges for cause: can’t consider full range of punishment; would hold defendant’s decision not to testify against him; couldn’t convict based on circumstantial evidence even if such evidence proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt (one of the state’s trick questions).

      The trial is still going on. The jury has been out since 11am Wednesday, and will be returning to continue deliberation at 8:30 tomorrow. They are a hardworking, thoughtful, intelligent bunch, and at least one of them seems to have an eidetic memory.

  5. I was selected when you used part of this jury selection process this week and was fascinated by the concept. I see that the last comment was over a year ago; what has been your experience over the past year using this?

    Is there any why I could see all of the questions? I think I heard you say there were a total of eight.

    1. Dr. Unger,

      Thanks for visiting.

      I hadn’t had a trial in the last 16 months for which use of the questions seemed appropriate.

      Here‘s a link to the eight questions I had on my list (four of which I used in the recent trial), but there are more in the social-sciences research; I just picked the ones that I found most interesting. I’d be happy to share the research I’ve found, and hear your thoughts.

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