Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Basics of Jury Consulting

           Picking a jury is hard work. It’s quite a challenge to find a group of people potentially biased towards your client while at the same time trying to make it look like they are fair and impartial. How do you find the right jury for your case? What themes should you emphasize? How do you go about making your client more likeable or relatable? A jury consultant can help you with that.

            Jury consultants offer a range of services other than simply helping with voir dire, says attorney Kathryn Burkett Dickson. They can assist with case analysis, theme development, venue choice, community attitude surveys, witness preparation, opening and closing arguments, use of graphics in the courtroom, and post-trial juror interviews. With the right advice, attorneys can better choose the right terms and words to use (or avoid), good questions to ask their witnesses, and how to best present their case.

            Criminal defendants and high-stakes civil parties tend to make use of jury consultants the most. Traditionally, people who hire jury consultants are either very wealthy, they are a criminal defendant in a white collar case, or they are a criminal defendant in a death penalty case. This trend seems to be changing, however, as some judges have started approving funding for indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges. 

            There is, of course, the possibility that the jury consultants do everything right, and help you pick a seemingly sympathetic jury (for example, maybe there are many people on your jury in ethnic minorities, like your client) and help you craft a brilliant theme; but the jury ends up voting against your client.

This happened during the 2011 trial of Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. To the tune of about $300,000, the jury consultants helped the defense pick a jury composed almost completely of ethnic minorities (Rajaratnam was born in Sri Lanka), many of whom were teachers, government workers, and healthcare workers—people thought to be skeptical of the U.S. government.

In the end, the jury consultants hired by the defense got the sympathy for Rajaratnam that they were going for: the jurors stated afterwards that it was hard for them to convict him on all fourteen counts. This just goes to show how important the facts are to a case—some jury members actually felt sorry for Rajaratnam, but convicted him regardless of their emotions.

Interestingly, defendants are not the only parties making use of jury consultants. Prosecutors have also availed themselves of professional jury advice. In 2009, a Maryland prosecutor hired a jury consultant to assist in the criminal trial of a popular mayor who was an African-American woman. The prosecutor needed help building a case against a popular public figure that was in an ethnic minority.

Another benefit of a prosecutor using a jury consultant may be that he or she has some level of certainty once the case gets rolling, says expert Richard Gabriel. Prosecutors may need to be cautious, however, because it can look like the state is trying to stack the jury against the defendant.

There are many advantages to hiring jury consultants, but if the government is not willing to pay thousands of dollars for their services, it is best for you and your client to weigh the cost. There is a risk involved that the jury consultant could give the right advice and help you present the best case possible, but your client could still lose. 

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