Archive for the ‘supplemental juror questionnaires’ Category

Jury Selection in Mattapan Massacre Case

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Starting in the summer of 2012, I was retained by attorney John Amabile to assist him with jury related issues in the retrial of Dwayne Moore, accused of killing four people and seriously wounding a fifth in a drug-related shooting in Mattapan, Massachusetts (a neighborhood of Boston). One of the victims was a two-year old boy and the victims were marched outside naked before they were shot, execution-style. Needless to say, the case engendered an enormous amount of publicity.

One of the initial co-defendants cut a deal with the district attorney’s office, in return for his testimony. This man, Kimani Washington, testified at the initial trial, in February of 2012, that he had left the scene before the shooting started and pointed the finger at Dwayne Moore. The jury in the initial trial hung with respect to the murder charges against Moore (11-1 as it happened), resulting in a mistrial. Mr. Moore was retried starting in October, 2012.

Given the emotionally charged and continuing media coverage of the case, Mr. Amabile was able to successfully move the Court to award funds to cover the cost of a jury consultant to assist with jury selection and other matters. With Judge Locke’s order, Mr. Amabile was in a position to pay me with funds from the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS).

The case was fascinating in many respects. Between the two trials, Marcus Hurd, the lone surviving victim, claimed to have experienced an epiphany with respect to his ability to identify the shooter (He had not done so at the first trial). There was a hearing about this, where his former fiancee contradicted his testimony about being able to make an ID. The judge ultimately allowed him to testify about this at court, but then the D.A. opted not to ask him to do so. We successfully moved for a change of venue to escape the Boston media market, so Judge Locke decided to select a jury from Worcester County (which turned out very much NOT to be outside the Boston media market) and bus the jurors to Boston every day for trial. We successfully petitioned the court for individualized, sequestered voir dire, as well as a supplemental juror questionnaire (SJQ) to be completed by every prospective juror. As a result, the jury pool was questioned to a degree probably unprecedented in the criminal courts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Jury selection took two weeks.

In early January, I was interviewed by Corine Claxton, the co-host of Mass Law Radio (MassLawRadio.org and @MassLawRadio), which airs weekly on WCUW in Worcester (WCUW.org), about my participation in the Mattapan Massacre case. The 1 hour interview has been divided into two parts, that aired on January 18th and 25th respectively. It was a wide-ranging discussion of juror psychology, deliberation dynamics, handling pretrial publicity, the role of a jury consultant, the effects of racial diversity in criminal cases and many other topics.

Listen to Part 1 of the interview by going to http://masslawradio.org/mattapan-massacre-murder-1/.

What’s brewing with Tea Party Jurors?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

But What About my Needs?

Back in the fall, I was running focus group research in an undisclosed location, in preparation for an undisclosed case, scheduled for an undisclosed trial date. (See how I did that? I just made my completely mundane case seem much more interesting by refusing to tell you anything about it.) Truth be told, the case details are irrelevant for the purposes of this post, except for the fact that it involves a consumer protection dispute.

I always have my focus group participants complete an extensive written questionnaire before the study begins. Think of the supplemental juror questionnaire (SJQ) you’d use if you were arguing your case before a really enlightened, curious and slightly whimsical judge. It’s kind of like that. The general information section contains pretty standard stuff about occupation and home ownership, mixed in with the usual pot porri of inquiries about tattoos and home schooling.

As I was finishing up the questions for this section, I noticed I had some white space before the next section on “Experience with the Legal System,” so I decided to add another question. “What do you think of the Tea Party Movement?” Mostly, I was curious about what people would be willing to write down about something that had engendered so much anger, confusion, frustration and passion in the general public.

I consider myself a pretty astute student of politics. I did teach in the Government Department at Harvard for ten years. I watch the Daily Show every night. I have RealPolitics.com bookmarked on my browser. But I have to admit that the Tea Party Movement has me stumped. It is easy to be really cynical about this group, blanketing them with a categorical label of “Angry Whackos.” Such a characterization, however, would be dismissive of the very real appeal that the movement has for a lot of people. There has to be a “there” there; or, at least something that actually unites the people who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters.

From a professional perspective, it is even more important for us to get a handle on what is driving the decision-making of Tea Party sympathizers. Tea Partiers are active in politics. They register to vote and go to rallies, so we should expect them to show up for jury duty when summoned.

This begs the question: What will Tea Partiers do in the jury box?

Hell hath no fury like a Tea Partier Scorned

On the surface, a typical tea party juror looks pretty good for the defense. They tend to believe in personal responsibility. They are more likely than your average respondent to think that there is a torts crisis and that frivolous law suits pose a real problem. Tea Partiers object to many entitlement programs and believe that too many Americans expect a free hand-out at every turn.

At our study in October, we had one such participant. Let’s call her Sally (not her real name). In response to the Tea Party question, Sally had written, “Actually, I think they’re great!” During an early part of the study, when I had the moderator pose hypothetical scenarios to the group, to see how they perceived situations similar to what we faced at trial, Sally rolled her eyes at one point, saying, “Oh, she’ll probably pick up the phone and call her lawyer. That’s what’s wrong with America. Everyone immediately thinks about suing somebody when anything goes wrong.” At this point, Sally sure seemed like a good defense juror.

The problem with the Tea Party paradigm, however, is its profound inconsistency and hypocrisy. What seems to unite Tea Party supporters is a profound lack of empathy for people unlike themselves, along with an almost hysterical need to have their own grievances heard and attended to. As such, when contemplating a Tea Party supporter as a juror, it is absolutely critical to gather a great deal of information about that person’s life to make sure that your case doesn’t push any of their hot buttons.

Turns out Sally had a hot button. WIthout giving away too much about the case, let’s say that it involves a relatively minor nuisance which the federal government had seen fit to penalize with extremely high mandatory civil penalties. As such, a thriving cottage industry has popped up of attorneys whose entire practice is to cobble together plaintiffs and sue under this one statute. After spending hours bemoaning the litigiousness of American society, Sally and her fellow respondents were finally introduced to the facts of our little case.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Sally had actually experienced the same problem as the plaintiffs in our case. Ironically, Sally had hired one of the companies who had inconvenienced her in violation of the statute and had been quite pleased with their work. Despite her prior rantings against suing in similar circumstances, and chiding from fellow respondents about the inconsistency of her position, Sally wanted to hang the defendants by their thumbs and drive them out of business. Sally constructed an entire fantasy about exactly how the defendant company operated, in order to justify her position that they, unlike the companies in the hypotheticals she had just finished discussing, deserved the most punitive treatment available.

Normally, this kind of argument would hold little sway with other jurors. The problem we faced in this case is that no-one else on the panel had any personal experience with the circumstances surrounding the case. So, while most subjects could easily dismiss Sally’s arguments as convoluted, several were willing to defer to her on the grounds that she had relevant experience they did not. That is, Sally was a self-professed expert and that was enough for them.

Tea for Two

I found my experience with Sally profoundly troubling. Many commentators have discussed the erosion of empathy, civil discourse and reason-based argument in America over the past fifteen years. Clearly, this transition was manifesting itself in jury rooms, as well as campaign trails and voting booths. So, my Tea Party question became standard for all of my jury research. Just a simple question, “What do you think of the Tea Party movement?”

Just this past month, I ran a multi-panel focus group study for a case involving one of Boston’s many universities. Again, without going into details about the case, I will divulge that the main witness for the defense was a very smart professor at the university. What makes this case potentially problematic, from a defense perspective, is that it is quite complicated and involves inner workings of a university with which most jurors will be quite unfamiliar. As such, the defense team wanted to make sure it could do a good job of getting jurors to actually understand how things work and who has responsibility for what.

We presented our treatment to the respondents and were pleased to see that, for the most part, they “got it.” That is, we had done a good job of conveying a lot of esoteric and complicated information in a way that ordinary people could understand. As it turned out, however, we weren’t out of the woods. There were two respondents who had decided that the university was not only wrong, but also evil and malicious. One of them wanted the university officials to be criminally prosecuted.

Reviewing their initial questionnaires, I didn’t find any real red flags. They both have degrees from local colleges, although not particularly good ones. One is a payroll manager and the other is a “self-employed” ticket broker and “public speaker.” The payroll manager, however, answered the Tea Party question, “They have some important ideas.” I decided to dig a little deeper.

Both of these respondents listed Fox News as a major source for news coverage. They also both read The Herald, and not The Globe. In addition, our ticket broker is from Revere and the payroll manager is from Winthrop. These are two blue-collar, mostly white, communities north of Boston. They are also the only two towns in Suffolk County that went for Scott Brown in his Senatorial contest with MA Attorney General Martha Coakley. While Ms. Coakley won 70% of the vote in Boston, she won 46% and 44% in Revere and Winthrop, respectively. Confirming Senator Brown’s appeal among blue-collar white voters, the only parts of Boston he won were South Boston, West Roxbury and the majority white neighborhoods of Dorchester.

One mainstay of the Tea Party movement and the Fox News propaganda is a rabid anti-intellectualism. They regularly vilify East Coast Liberal Elites and preach adherence to faith over science. Followers of this dogma are trained to be inherently suspicious of major research universities. Such universities are the homes of those perpetrating the global warming hoax and foisting evolution on unsuspecting school children who should be taught only creationism. In short, a professor at a major Boston university is immediately and automatically suspect, regardless of what he or she has to say.

Always Dig Deeper

In addition to asking about preferred sources for news, I ask respondents to tell me about social media usage. Our ticket broker has a Twitter account. He doesn’t tweet much, but he did post extremely religious messages on Christmas. He follows both Scott Brown and Fox News on Twitter. In short, he is a Christian Conservative living within a stone’s throw of Boston.

There were fewer overt signs of political preference for our payroll manager. I did, however, pull up her LinkedIn profile. After many years at the same company, she changed jobs last June. She lasted only six months at the new company and only found work at a third firm after a few months without a job. While we will never know exactly what happened that caused her to leave her new job after such a short stint, it is not hard to imagine that she had some sort of negative experience working there. Because Tea Party sympathizers weight so heavily their own experiences and concerns, her extreme negative reaction to our case might have been triggered by her own lingering hostility towards her last employer. They are a big corporation and a university is a big corporation.

Our ticket broker is obviously struggling to make ends meet. He has a college degree and thinks of himself as very intelligent and articulate. He would raise his voice to be heard and was the one participant who regularly cut people off or spoke over them. He had all the characteristics of an inferiority complex and could reliably be counted on to disparage the testimony of some fancy-pants professor.

Handling Tea Partiers During Voir Dire

If you practice in a jurisdiction with real attorney-conducted voir dire and/or regular use of supplemental juror questionnaires, you can probably tease out the tea party supporters. You can ask them questions about their experiences and make sure they have no negative associations with the topic of your case.

Life is much trickier in a jurisdiction with limited voir dire. Standard practice in Massachusetts, for example, is for the judge to ask all the questions, with limited input on question content from the attorneys. The main round of questioning is done as a group in open court, so all of the questions must be phrased to accommodate yes or no answers. The judge decides how deeply to dig into any topics at sidebar for any subsequent individualized voir dire and the lawyers are not permitted to speak directly to any of the prospective jurors.

One byproduct of this arrangement is that judges typically ask extremely direct and pointed questions, but not ones that a student of juror psychology would suggest. A Massachusetts judge would never ask a prospective juror about her views on the Tea Party unless the case were specifically about something a Tea Party leader had done. So, in a world of limited voir dire, it is very difficult to explore these tracers for attitudinal tendencies. And, without attorney-conducted voir dire, it is pretty much impossible to get information about attitudes directly. In short, we’re screwed.

In the case involving the local university, we will try to use the demographic information to our advantage. We will keep an eye out for blue collar, white jurors, without major university credentials, from pro-Scott Brown communities. This is, unfortunately, a third-order proxy for what we really want to know about these people, but it is the best we can do in such a low information environment.

My main advice for anyone facing the prospect of Tea Party followers in the jury pool is to be extremely careful to identify them and gather as much information as possible. My experience is that such individuals can be unpredictable and capricious. Equally important, they like to talk and believe that what they have to say is profoundly important. One characteristic that seems to be shared by many Tea Party adherents is sense that their voice is not being heard by those in power. They are loud, persistent and desperate to be heard. As such, you must anticipate that a tea party juror will be an active juror, a persistent juror, and an incalcitrant juror. You had better know in advance exactly what they want and what their hot button issues are. If you don’t I recommend that you burn a peremptory strike and move along to the next person in the box.

Getting Up Close and Personal: Using Social Media in Jury Selection

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Getting up Close and Personal:

Voir dire is often too brief or too constrained by the preferences of the court or the skills of the questioner.  The advantage of revealing and exploring the values and attitudes of venire members to inform deselection choices often is challenged by the limits imposed upon voir dire.  We do know this: Jurors are more candid online then they are in the courtroom. We know from social science research that responses to Supplemental Juror Questionnaires are more revealing and more truthful than responses to oral voir dire. It’s one small step to extrapolate that, in the privacy of your own home typing on your own laptop in your blog or Facebook, such expressions would be more revealing and more likely to be a true reflection of held attitudes, values and opinions. Being able to use Internet searches and Social Networking publicly published is a boon to the trial attorney hoping to select an unbiased and open minded jury.

Reuters quipped that traditional voir dire is being transformed into “Voir Google”.  Both Forbes and the Wall Street Journal Online have addressed what is perceived with some concern the evolving practice of Social Media Analysis. Online juror vetting can serve as a way to bypass court imposed restrictions and other limitations on voir dire which can be especially helpful in state and federal courts where a lawyer conducted voir dire is not permitted.

Scanning Facebook , MySpace and Twitter , and using Google searches to find jurors’ names on the websites of government agencies, school boards, local companies, and sites that contain property and court records can be very revealing. Links to each site can be assembled in a spreadsheet. Results from these searches can be used to compose a profile of the potential jurors’ online persona and a record of salient attitudes and actual behavior which is a gold mine for the juror deselection process.

A study by Acquisti & Gross (2006) noted that while concern for online privacy is high there is no significant relationship between individual’s privacy attitudes (how protective they believed themselves to be) and their likelihood of sharing personal information on-line. Majorities reported providing “complete and accurate” information about their birthday, their political views, and their sexual orientation, among other things.

The federal courts so far have not addressed the issue of online vetting of jurors, and just two states, Missouri and New Jersey, have said it’s acceptable in some forms. But judges and lawyers, even in those states, still seem to be grappling with the practice.

Trolling Twitter, Cable TV and Blogs:

In a ground breaking effort, Amy Singer, with the aid of other professional trial consultants,  during Casey Anthony’s weeks long trial, daily analyzed more than 40,000 highly charged opinions, both negative and positive on social media sites and blogs, and use them to help the defense crafted trial strategy. This pro bono aggregation of trial consultants from all over the country intervened when they became concerned about the volatile nature of television media as well as social media and the impact it would have on seating a reasonably fair and open-minded jury.

Especially in highly publicized cases like the Casey Anthony murder trial, monitoring social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and Blogs can and does revolutionize the way lawyers and trial consultants advocate for their clients.  Scanning tweets, Facebook posts and messages from bloggers, and other media sites can provide trial advocates a means to gauge opinions about the plaintiff, prosecution or defense, trial attorneys, witness testimony, evidence, and the developing focus point of the trial whatever that may be.

In the in the highly publicized case, daily monitoring of the social media becomes an online shadow jury. Naturally, the trial attorney and the trial consultant must decide how and when to adjust trial strategy. This is a tool that opens public postings to tap into people’s minds as gauge of likely juror attitudes as an adjunct to trial strategy.

One thing is clear, attorneys and consultants should be using this information, but only as long as they’re looking for public information and not using techniques to get past privacy walls. Statements, attitudes, and expressions on the potential jurors “wall” is public, and the only way to tell if it could be relevant to the case at hand is by reading it.

Social media analysis, when ethically and properly done amounts to a study of public records (using sites such as KnowX and ZabaSearch ) as well as available social media (Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to identify the evident experiences, attitudes, and beliefs of potential jurors. Based on this research, attorneys receive advice on any potential concerns with prospective jurors. When a jury is seated; the team can also monitor any active social networkers known to be on the jury, to make sure they aren’t blogging about the trial, for example, and risking a mistrial.

Ken Broda-Bahm, a senior trial consultant for Persuasion Strategies has listed a very helpful set of do’s and don’ts as it relates to social media analysis in their great blog, LitigationPS

“This is what I consider responsible social media analysis:

1) Run juror names through a public records database. Most of the information you retrieve will not be especially important, but occasionally you will be surprised. In one of our cases, for example, we found that an attorney who had been disbarred in two states for defrauding clients (but who said in voir dire that he had “never been involved in a legal proceeding”) was potentially sitting in a trial…for a fraud case.

2) Run jurors’ names through the common search engines as well as those sites which are currently vogue (e.g., Facebook and Twitter).

3) Include common variants of juror names, as well as identifying information like hometown and age.

4) Remember there is no substitute for case-relevant questioning in either oral voir dire, a supplemental juror questionnaire or a combination. On-line investigations can give you a good picture of your juror, but you won’t see the full set of attitudes and experiences that bear directly on the issues in your case.

5) Don’t believe everything you read. Something isn’t more “true” because it is on the internet, and we all know that there is a certain level of posturing (or social desirability bias) present in on-line writing.

And this is what I consider over the line:

1) Don’t violate the intent of privacy settings. If a writer makes it public, it is public. If, on the other hand, the writer intends to make it visible to registered members or to those who are “friended,” then it is private. Even if there is a technical way to view the data, don’t do it.

2) Don’t ‘friend’ potential jurors. This seems obvious. However, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Cameron County, Texas District Attorney has supplied iPads to his prosecutors for use during voir dire (not necessarily a bad idea) and is considering ways to get behind potential jurors’ privacy walls in Facebook by offering them free internet in exchange for “friending” his office (definitely a bad idea). I imagine that defense attorneys are a little disturbed at the notion of their entire panel being asked to “friend” the prosecutor. Even without the enticement of free internet access, any access request is a form of contact, and a party’s contact with potential jurors is prohibited for a good reason.

3) Don’t make an enemy of the judge. Whether you or I can defend the practice is one thing, and whether your judge approves of it is another. As one New Jersey attorney found out, it isn’t a good idea to sit in court Googling jurors if the judge finds that practice disturbing. While an appeals court ultimately ruled in favor of the attorney, the best practice is to know and follow the judge’s preferences. When a venire list is available in advance, you should conduct your searches from the safety of your own office.

While the practice of social media analysis is not new, we can expect it to fall under greater scrutiny. The American Society of Trial Consultants has adopted professional standards relating to background checks on potential jurors, which basically track what I’m suggesting above: go ahead and gain the relevant information, but respect potential jurors, be honest, and follow the law. Not so hard when you break it down.”

In summary, Social Media Analysis supplements and expands the armamentarium the trial advocate has to inform and illuminate the attitudes, values, biases, and behavior of prospective jurors. Like properly conducted oral voir dire and the effective use of Supplemental Juror Questionnaires, knowing what makes your venire panelists tick is the first crucial step in the pursuit of justice for your client. Social Media Analysis is a valuable and expanding means of getting the job done for effective jury selection.