Juries

Should pot be legal? Do you do crossword puzzles? Answers help lawyers pick jurors


There’s an art to juror questionnaires, according to Philip Anthony, chief executive of the trial consulting company DecisionQuest.

The goal is to write questions that elicit enough information without tipping off opposing counsel, the New York Times reports. “For example, if you’re a defendant, you might not want a question along the lines of ‘Do you believe too much money is awarded in the court system?’ ” Anthony told the newspaper. “Because people who say ‘absolutely’ are, in the minds of both sides, defense-oriented, so all you’re doing is highlighting the people who the plaintiff may want to strike.”

Leslie Ellis, a senior consultant with TrialGraphix, offers additional suggestions in an interview with the New York Times. Questions need to be written in a way that makes it acceptable to express a bias. The question could be posed this way: “Lots of people feel this way; how many would agree with that?” Open-ended questions could also be revealing.

The Times includes an interactive juror questionnaire in a mock case involving a woman suing her investment adviser for mismanaging her money. One question was whether the potential juror does crossword puzzles or other games that require full concentration. A no answer means the potential juror is more likely to side with the plaintiff’s emotional theme of victimhood rather than looking at the legal and financial details.

The story also gives examples of questions used in high-profile trials:

• In a federal corruption trial of a state senator in Brooklyn, potential jurors were asked whether they had ever worked as janitors, business owners or at hospitals; whether they worked in a job where they had an expense account; and whether they were the person who managed the money at home.

• In the trial of five associates of Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, potential jurors were asked about their parents’ jobs, whether they had lost money in the stock market since the economic downturn, whether they owned e-readers, and whether they played the lottery.

• In the trial of alleged mobster Whitey Bulger, potential jurors were asked whether marijuana should be legalized and the name of the last book they had read.

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