“Ryan, I have jury duty coming up, what will the lawyers ask me?” says a friend at a summer picnic.
We just finished 3 days of jury selection on a food safety case in Hartford. The topic of jury selection is at the front of my mind. So here you go.
In Connecticut we have individual jury selection. This means that a juror on a civil case will likely find herself in a room – possibly a court room – with the attorneys on the case and a jury clerk. It may even be in a conference room.
Attorneys from each side have the right to ask prospective jurors questions.
There’s no quiz. No right or wrong answers. The purpose is to assemble a panel that will give each side a fair chance at trial.
Lawyers often ask questions about professional training. For example, will a nurse or doctor on the panel be able to set aside her medical training for the judgment of another doctor and rely solely on the evidence presented in the case? Will the person who works for an insurance company be fair to a plaintiff?
We also often ask about how sure someone has to be when they make a decision. The standard in a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence. It is ever so slightly more right than wrong. It’s not even 51% it’s more like 50.00000000001%. Some folks need near certainty to make a decision and that may make it hard for them to serve.
Other common questions are about whether or not a prospective juror knows a party, lawyer, or witness.
The last bucket of questions deals with feelings about the parties. Can a juror be fair to a corporate defendant or does the juror see the corporations as evil? Can the jury be fair to the bicyclist who has the same rights to the road as a car or does he see the bicyclist as having less of a right to the road than a car?
These are the common sorts of questions that are asked. There are others too.
And if you’re not picked, it may have nothing to do with your answers. There are many reasons someone may not be picked that have nothing to do with bias. For example, a scheduling conflict or a hardship.
We believe juries are the conscience of our community and are deeply grateful for those who serve. It is truly the most important role in our democracy. The notion that problems that can’t be resolved between parties are resolved by the community has served our country well.
If you’ve served, what have you been asked? Leave your answers in the comments below.