Why Lawyers Prefer Clueless People on Juries
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UPDATED: Sep 11, 2017
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When it comes to picking a jury, lawyers may prefer people who know as little as possible.
Serving on a jury is both a duty and a right for most people.
People can be excused from jury service for various reasons, including being active-duty military personnel. But to be on a jury, a person must:
- be a US citizen
- be at least 18
- live in the judicial district for at least a year
- know enough English to complete the juror qualification form
- have no disqualifying physical or mental condition
- not currently be subject to serious felony charges
- never have been convicted of a felony (unless the person’s civil rights were restored)
Jurors are selected by a process called “voir dire.” During voir dire, the lawyers for each side can question potential jurors to find out if they have any pre-exiting opinions or feelings about the parties or the case.
Jurors are supposed to have open minds, and vote based on the evidence presented to them in court.
When a case is a high profile one, it can be hard to find jurors who don’t have some kind of bias.
Favoring the Uninformed
However, as the New York Times reports, “Jury selections today have moved beyond seeking the unbiased to favoring the uninformed.”
For example, Martin Shkreli was recently put on trial for (and convicted of) securities fraud.
As NPR reports, Shkreli is a former pharmaceutical company executive best known for raising the price of a life-saving pill for AIDS patients from $13.50 to $750 each.
At his trial, the lawyers for the defense struggled to find jurors who didn’t already hate their client.
Some of the choice voir dire responses from potential jurors include:
- I’m aware of the defendant and I hate him.
- I think he’s a greedy little man.
- Your Honor, totally he is guilty and in no way can I let him slide out of anything.
- He’s the most hated man in America.
- From everything I’ve seen on the news, everything I’ve read, I believe the defendant is the face of corporate greed in America.
Wu Tang Clan
One juror said he disliked Shkreli because he disrespected the rap group Wu Tang Clan.
(Shkreli reportedly bought the only existing copy of the group’s One Upon a Time in Shaolin album for $2 million.)
According to the Times, lawyers seem to want jurors who don’t have opinions because they don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the world:
They are looking for jurors who not only have no viewpoints on the case, but also little exposure to the subject matter, who don’t follow the news, haven’t traveled to the places discussed at trial and have pastimes as innocuous as possible.
The problem is, people who aren’t paying attention to the news and don’t have any opinions may not be terribly smart. They may not really understand the facts of the case, and they may let themselves be persuaded by appeals to their emotions, or favor the lawyer who puts on the better show or the better-looking party.
And that doesn’t serve the interests of justice.