Jury Research Key in Famous Cases

Most attorneys are suspicious of jurors who say they know nothing about a high-profile case. One popular perception is that lawyers — particularly defense attorneys — want and are able to find jurors who do not know anything about a given famous case. But that's not true.

"Jurors always know something about the case," said Ron Fischetti, who represented white former New York Police Officer Charles Schwarz for his alleged involvement in the attack on Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. "The test is whether they have formed an opinion on the case and whether they can put that opinion aside."

Profiling the Jury

Since prospective jurors are almost always drawn from the community where the case is being tried, jury consultants often help lawyers get a feeling for the local residents and their attitudes to the case. The research helps them advise lawyers on what kind of jurors would be best for their case and recommend questions to ask the jury pool. It can help lawyers determine whether the members of the community will be able to put their opinions aside if called to serve as a juror.

Jury consultants sometimes set up mock juries using local residents. Prosecutors or defense attorneys can then present their arguments to the mock jurors to gauge the community's attitude toward their case and their client. Consultants also use surveys and statistical modeling tests to help determine what kind of biases and prejudices prospective jurors in the area may have.

However, sometimes surveys and tests cannot anticipate the pressure some prospective jurors may feel from members of their community.

"You have those who worry about having to go back to the community and have people say, 'Hey, he raped one of our own and you let him off. How could you do that?' That's got to be tough," Sherman said.

Jury consultants also observe whether mock jurors react negatively to prosecutors and defense lawyers and their clients and advise them whether they could present themselves or their client differently before the a real jury.

"Sometimes jurors react negatively to certain attorneys, whether it's something they do or the manner in which they carry themselves," said Linda Foley, a jury consultant and professor of psychology at the University of North Florida. "Apparently, this happened in the O.J. Simpson case with [prosecutor] Marcia Clark. Jurors can zero in on things that suggest that, 'He's not being honest with us.' "

Foley acknowledged, however, that jury consulting has limitations, because juries are often unpredictable when they get into the courtroom.

"We're making general predictions when you're talking about a very specific jury," Foley said. "Every jury is different."

Taking the Trial on the Road

If defense lawyers suspect that pretrial publicity might have turned local residents against their client, they can ask judges to order the trial moved to another jurisdiction where residents will have heard less about the case. A change of venue could influence a life-or-death decision for Scott Peterson, who could face the death penalty if convicted of killing his wife.

Attorneys for Peterson have been seeking a change of venue from Modesto, and prosecutors in the case reportedly hired a consultant and sought a survey in an effort to show the judge that Peterson could get a fair trial in his home town.

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