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Boston Bombing, Jury Selection And Fair Trials

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The news is awash with jury selection in the case of the remaining Boston Bomber, a process that took two months and only finished on March 3, 2015, in an effort to seat 12 people to decide this man’s fate. While many of us have preconceived notions about the absolute guilt of this young man, there remains a strong split in American thinking about the fairness and validity of the death penalty. I’m told much of jury selection dealt with that one point: If you find him guilty, would you be able to sentence him to death.

When I thought about the Boston Bomber case, it reminded me of the many cases I have selected juries to handle my clients’ grievous injury cases. What would you think about having 12 (sometimes just 6) people you’ve never met and who know nothing about you deciding your fate for horrible injuries in an accident? It is truly a daunting proposition.

While jury selection in criminal cases is often a much longer process, civil jury selection requires considerable thought and time for the attorney. Here’s how it goes in civil jury selection (and I stipulate that there’s no way in this short space to cover all the intricacies): the Clerk’s office subpoenas 100, maybe more, citizens to the courthouse for jury duty. Out of those, an initial 14 to 20, depending on the judge, are called at random to go to the courtroom.

Once they are seated, the judge asks a number of questions bearing on their basic qualifications to serve: “Do you live in this parish? Do you have a felony record? Do you know any of the parties, lawyers or anything about the case?” And lots more. Once the judge finishes, the lawyers on each side are given a chance to question-the fancy legal words are “voir dire”-the jury prospects. Under Louisiana law: “The parties or their attorneys shall individually conduct such examination of the prospective jurors as each party deems necessary, but the court may control the scope of the examination to be conducted by the parties or their attorneys.” La. Code of Civil Procedure Art. 1763(B).

When my firm conducts examinations of potential jurors, we always ask the juror prospects to do the talking. “What do you think about people who file lawsuits for injuries? What do you think about including in your judgment money for pain and suffering?” After each question, I call on a particular juror to answer, then ask other jurors what they think about the subject. There are no wrong answers. The whole point is to pick a jury that is fair, impartial and will give both sides a fair trial. I certainly don’t want a person on my jury who hates lawyers, dislikes people who sue for damages and who don’t believe pain and suffering is a real injury. So I ask them. It usually takes about an hour and a half, if the judge lets me ask enough questions, and we’re usually much better able to identify jurors who are not biased.

Once the lawyer questioning is over, the picking process begins. Each side can ask the judge to strike a potential juror “for cause”. That is, if the juror said during the questioning that he hates insurance companies and will sock it to them in his verdict, he will likely be excused for cause. After the “cause” strikes are over, each side has 6 “peremptory” challenges in which they can strike any prospect for any reason that is not racially motivated. This process often necessitates the calling of another 14 to 20 people because the parties are unable to seat 12 from the first batch.

Jury selection has been called the most important process in an injury trial. After all, this is the group who will be deciding the fate of BOTH parties. As a lawyer, I want to do everything I can to make sure I have a fair jury, not subject to such biases that they are automatically against my client before any evidence is introduced. Ideally, that’s what both sides want.

If you would like to know more about jury selection, or if you have a personal injury case from an offshore accident, truck crashpremises defect, work injury or another type of case, give our firm a call today.