Jurors are pulled into courthouses bringing with each their unmovable principles, attitudes and beliefs. The goal of jury selection is the questioning allowed by the judge, in choosing the fairest possible jury. Given the fact that many prospective jurors do not want to be involved in the process at all, lawyers who handle injury or death cases need to be aware that they have to overcome a prospective juror’s hostility to lawsuits generally, perhaps because of the rise in negative publicity.
Generally, lawyers are thrust into meeting prospective jurors with little or no opportunity for preparation for the venire or the group brought in. Depending on the venue, a lawyer should take whatever opportunities are given to increase the odds of de-selecting and empaneling the best possible and fairest jury.
It is important to know in advance the law of the venue and the process for jury selection in a particular courtroom. It’s advisable to file a trial brief on the law in advance of every case to ensure that the lawyer is familiar with the local law and the court’s process. Judges differ in style from court to court. If a lawyer is familiar with the judge, that is an advantage in understanding the judge’s process for questioning motions to strike a juror with or without cause and paneling the jurors.
If allowed, jury questionnaires for prospective jurors are extremely helpful to glean valuable information without wasting court time. Jury selection can be lengthy and tedious. Judges generally push lawyers to shorten the time devoted to jury questioning. Questionnaires would save time and allow lawyers to learn a lot about the prospective juror who may also feel more comfortable in preparing a written answer rather than giving an answer in front of the others in the courtroom.
In any significant case, jury research is imperative. Focus groups, surveys and on-line resources are all ways to learn if there are particular characteristics or biases to be aware of when de-selecting a juror for a particular case. Some lawyers will engage a trial consultant to help with both focus groups during pretrial preparation and to assist with jury selection in the courtroom.
Social media, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, may reveal information about potential jurors that otherwise would not be known. n addition, lawyers should be extremely sensitive to the fact that their own clients and witnesses may have embarrassing posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media. These areas should be carefully scrutinized in advance of the jury selection.
Voir dire or jury selection can be an intimidating process for prospective jurors. Many judges will do what they believe to be the bulk of jury questioning. Jury questioning should always be an open conversation. It is the only time a lawyer can have a conversation with a juror. The questions should be personalized, and questioning should be open-ended allowing for greater detail to be added by the juror with questions such as, “Tell me more about that.”
Jury selection is all about learning as much as possible about prospective jurors and then de-selecting those that you know or sense would be least favorable to the evidence that the lawyer is about to present. There is no certainty in jury selection. The more that is known about a prospective juror, the better the chance that the juror would be fair to the positions a lawyer takes in the case.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling jury trials for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Logan Square, Irving Park, Southside, Garfield, Ridge), Evanston, Orland Park, Naperville, Woodridge, Aurora, Elgin, St. Charles, Wheaton, Tinley Park, Chicago Heights and Evanston, Ill.
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