A fellow contributor to this blog interviewed a person about his past jury service when the juror knew the foreperson and had even served on a jury a few years earlier with the same foreperson. I was stunned how small that rural jury pool was.
Some questions about small jury pools came to mind after hearing that story: Does it influence a jury improperly if the jurors know each other? Are deliberations very different if jurors know each other? Should attorneys use this or avoid it? Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers.
During my jury service in a large Texas county, I found out I knew of, but was not close to, a fellow juror because she taught at my old high school. We knew the same people but were otherwise strangers like the rest of the jurors.
A jury consultant company stated on its website that the jury selection process in a rural area “where everyone knows everyone else” is “very different” from populated areas, but states no reasoning for its statements in hopes of getting jury consulting business even in rural areas.
A rural jury pool might not mean that the prospective jurors know one another. For example, in Alaska, the courts and jury system are concerned about making a jury representative of the area because the jurors are spread far apart. Selecting a representative jury often proves challenging.
The logistics of rural jury pools are unique, too. For the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, rural jurors can get reimbursed for their airfare and taxi fares needed to travel to the courthouse because the travel distance is great and the terrain is rough.
Also, certain demographics and political ideologies can correspond with rural areas, which is discussed more in this post. The author encourages lawyers to take the conservatism of rural areas into account and even change trial strategy if the town is very small. He suggests conducting mock trials or focus groups in the unique venue, unless the town has less than 10,000 people. Researching the small venue seems like a good starting point for anyone with a jury trial in a rural area.
A closely related issue is if the impartiality of the jury is affected by jurors knowing the parties or witnesses. In a place with a small jury pool, I can imagine it would be likely that jurors would know or know of the parties on a case. For example, I observed a case in Collin County, Texas, where a judge let a juror off the panel when the juror informed the judge that he was related to a witness. In one case in a rural part of West Virginia, a new trial was granted because a juror was MySpace friends with the defendant and messaged him without disclosing the connection to the parties.
There seem to be extra considerations for selecting a jury from a rural area, including doing more research on the area and asking more questions about how well the parties and jurors know each other.