CHARLESTON -- Researchers, attorneys and their clients often have preconceptions of jury panels in West Virginia.
In general, it's been assumed that the average juror would most likely be an older individual, unemployed or underemployed, and female. It's generally assumed the average juror is more likely to be less educated than a person that hasn't served on a jury.
This might lead an attorney and his or her client to assume that the average juror would have liberal political leanings, be oriented to side with labor or unions, and have a bias against corporations and the business community.
Several years ago, our firm began asking a question regarding jury duty on many of the survey research projects that we do: "Have you ever served on a jury?" The responses of more than 3,000 people interviewed were summarized and compared to form a basic picture of jurors in West Virginia.
Interestingly, and in some cases surprisingly, the average juror does not fit the picture an attorney may have in his or her mind. In other cases, it matches perfectly. For example, it is assumed that the average juror is older. This, in fact, is born out in our data. Of those surveyed that are age 55 or older, 41 percent have served on a jury while, among those aged 35 to 54, 30 percent have served on a jury. In contrast, only 9 percent of those between 18 to 34 have served jury duty.
On the other hand, the assumption that women are more available/responsive in terms of serving on a jury panel is not the case. In fact, 36 percent of men surveyed have served on a jury while only 30 percent of women surveyed have served jury duty.
It has also been assumed that individuals with lower levels of education are more likely to serve jury duty, but our research shows that 36 percent of college graduates and 35 percent of those with college or technical school backgrounds have served on a jury. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of people with a high school education or less have served on a jury. Once these statistics are known, it's not surprising that income levels fell into step. Thirty-six percent of West Virginians earning more than $50,000 per year, and 36 percent of those earning between $20,000 and $50,000 per year have served jury duty. On the other hand, only 28 percent of people earning less than $20,000 per year have served on a jury.
The political leanings of the average juror was also explored. It was found that 31 percent of people that identify themselves as "liberal" have served on a jury compared to 34 percent of those who identify themselves as "conservative" have served.
What do all of these numbers and percentages mean to the attorney preparing for a jury trial? How can this information be helpful? While it may be routine to prepare case themes and strategies to play toward the less educated, the underemployed, or the "liberal," attorneys may need to question this "common knowledge." While older people are more likely to serve on a jury than younger, more educated and higher income individuals are also more likely to serve on a jury. An attorney's case does not necessarily need to be "dumbed down" or skewed to a female audience. In fact, the much more important focus for a litigator should be to identify potential "leaders" of the small group dynamics that take place during the jury deliberation process. Discovering this type of information is another example of how researchers and attorneys can be partners in success.
Samples is president of RMS Strategies, a communications and opinion research agency headquartered in Charleston. RMS Strategies has extensive crises communications, counseling and litigation research experience and has worked for clients throughout the nation during the last 25 years. They can be contacted at 304.343.7655 or www.rmsstrategies.com.