I’m often asked about potential legal reforms that could be made to improve the quality of jury panels. This, invariably, causes me to consider the type of jurors most of us would want on a panel if we were on trial. Yes, I think first from a defensive perspective as I believe most people would if they consider this issue in detail.
My initial desire for a jury panel is a basic, very unscientific sounding characteristic: I would want jurors to be happy with their lives. Of course, the devil is in the details, so what components of jurors’ lives would be reflective of their relative happiness?
Economic conditions are a fundamental factor to emotional well-being. No, money doesn’t buy happiness but its right up there with oxygen as a necessity. I would want a jury panel that is not in an economic hardship position. Jurors that do not have extraordinary stress in their lives due to a lack of financial capabilities often prove to be more effective.
I also wouldn’t want jurors who consider themselves underemployed. People spend so much of their lives working that unhappiness can grow quickly in an environment in which individuals aren’t challenged to some degree.
Additionally, I would want people with good cognitive skills. Individuals who are thinkers are usually good jurors. While education level is certainly a decent measure of cognitive capability, it isn’t the only measure of “thinking power.”
This thought leads me to consider life experiences as a measure of a potentially good juror. I’d much rather have a “well rounded” individual than someone who has been more isolated and introverted in their lives. Multiple cultural experiences and applicable occupational experience helps jurors to consider and analyze situations. Being able to relate to someone else’s experiences to some degree is a good juror trait.
Lastly, I would want jurors who can communicate effectively. Good communicative skills are important to so many aspects of our lives. However, the task of jury participation is a relatively short, intense small group discussion exercise that requires a high level of quality communication to be effective.
So, what can be done to improve the quality of jury panels through legal reform. The short answer is improving participation. The best potential jurors are also usually the best at getting excused from jury duty.
Jury consultants prefer a large potential pool of jurors in order to select, or de-select, certain individuals from the case.
Additionally, the effective jury consultant requires multiple interviewing techniques and data points as a means to segment best/worst case jurors. The job of a jury consultant is to quantitatively measure the juror traits that provide the best scenario for a positive outcome.
However, what we are often left with is the task of jury selection among a relatively small pool of potential jurors and, more importantly, a limited ability to investigate the jurors’ attitudes, opinions and life-styles.
Samples is president of RRS Research, a communications and opinion research agency headquartered in Charleston. He has extensive crises communications, counseling and litigation research experience and has worked for clients throughout the nation during the last 25 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.