Practical Tips for Picking a Jury

Vol. 16 No. 9

By

Valerie K. Ferrier is Executive Agency Counsel with the MTA Bus Company in New York, NY. She may be reached at valerie.ferrier@mtabusco.com.

Even if you took trial advocacy classes or participated in mock trial in law school, scant attention is paid to the art of picking a jury. Thus, when unexpectedly confronted with the task, most people are at a loss and wing it. Never underestimate the importance of selecting the people who will decide your case. The case can be decided then and there, before the presentation of any evidence or testimony.

Don’t Get on Their Bad Side

On juror questionnaires in New York City, there is a question about whether the potential juror, or anyone that juror knows, has ever been the victim of a crime. I once witnessed a jury selection for a civil case where, in front of the whole panel, my adversary asked one of the jurors who had answered “yes” what the crime was. She said her aunt was murdered. Complete silence. I win.

What were the mistakes? It’s a civil case, so the crime question is totally irrelevant. It’s none of your business what the crime was, so don’t ask. If he really needed to know, he could have asked her in private. Finally, not only does this woman now think he’s rude and heartless but every other one of the 29 potential jurors in that room also believes he’s rude and heartless. No matter who gets on the jury, none of them like him.

The Trial Is about More Than the Trial

This is an amazing piece of wisdom given to me by one of my mock trial coaches. It sounds crazy. How can a run-of-the-mill personal injury trial ever be about more than what it is? It can, and you just need to figure out what that is, because the other side probably hasn’t bothered. My very first jury trial was defending a trip and fall. I knew going into voir dire that the plaintiff was an independently wealthy woman who had quit working a few months after her accident because she didn’t need the money. She had a maid, her husband supported her, and she grew up rich. So I decided the trial was about class warfare, and I determined to stack the jury with self-made citizens, knowing they wouldn’t give this woman, who didn’t need it, another $50,000 for her injuries four years earlier. And jury panels in Manhattan are loaded with self-made citizens. The best part about this strategy is that it’s not subject to a Batson challenge because it doesn’t depend on race or gender, and it was almost impossible to guess I was doing it. Ultimately, we seated as jurors, among others, a Dominican accountant, a Ukrainian auto body designer, an Algerian truck driver, and three children of immigrants living in Chinatown whose parents were cooks and maids. I won.

Make It Worth Their While to Be Jurors

By now, most people have probably seen a lot of Law & Order, and potential jurors expect a show, so use some theatrical techniques. Whisper to make them pay attention and concentrate. Get loud when you want to emphasize something (or wake them up). I try to wear suits and a splash of color somewhere so I’m visually more interesting than others in traditional grey.

Finally, appeal to their sense of civic duty. It makes people feel important. I talk a lot to my juries about how important their service is, how I know they have other things to do, but they’re here, and they make a difference.

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