Friday, October 30, 2009

The Quick-Pick Jury. But it'll never happen.

So, I've blogged before about how we pick a jury for trial: here.

Too lazy to click and read? Here's a recap: Sixty people show up, most grudgingly, and sit for between two and Lord-knows-how-many hours while the lawyers try and figure out who can be fair, and who might be best and worst for their case.

And it takes a while. The judge talks for 45 minutes letting the panel know what they are in for and what their responsibilities are. Then the prosecutor talks for anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours, after which a much-needed bathroom break is awarded. Then the defense lawyer gets to his feet and has a go.

When he's finally done the judge calls up jurors who have issues and can't or don't want to serve. Then another break while the lawyers excerise their peremptory strikes and choose which jurors they want.

And then, when the dust settles and the carnage is over, twelve people good and true are impanelled as jurors and both sets of lawyers are left second-guessing their picks.

A waste of a good afternoon, if you ask me: it starts at 1:30 PM and we're rarely done before 5:30 PM. Four long hours where sixty people have to sit still and pay attention. I've tried an entire felony case in four hours.

So how about we do it this way: just one question from the Judge and the first twelve who answer "yes" get seated as jurors. That question: "Can you give a fair hearing to both the prosecution and the defendant?"

This is, after all, what we are looking for, isn't it?

It'll never happen because (a) it'd put a lot of jury consultants out of business (guess how Dr. Phil became famous?) and (b) it would result in lawyers feeling less in control, which would be sacrilege.

The thing is, that's what happens in England, the place from whence much of our law comes. And there's not talk of changing it there. There, the judge asks: "Can you give a fair hearing to both the Crown and the defence*?" Say yes, you're on board. There are some exceptions allowing challenge for cause, but not peremptory challenges.

Some advantages:

1. A more random, and hopefully representative, selection process. Know how many doctors, lawyers, professors etc end up on juries here? Almost none. They know how to get out of it, they are allowed to get out of it, and are frequently deselected by the lawyers. But don't we want smart, educated people on there?

2. Less easy to manipulate, by lawyers and prospective jurors. That's good for integrity.

3. Time. Instead of wasting an entire afternoon, jury selection could take minutes. We'd have to call fewer people to the courthouse, too, making it less of a burden on the 48 people who show up but don't get seated. (And that also means more downtown parking for the rest of us.)

4. Money. Everyone saves money. The clients paying for their lawyer's time, the county paying for my time, the panelists missing work, etc. Knocking jury selection down to thirty minutes might even allow us to try two cases in a week, speeding up the justice system as a whole.

Just a thought.

* They spell it that way when they talk, too. Funny Brits.


  1. One slight problem. Anyone who can't be bothered to do jury duty just has to answer "no" to the judge's question.

    Love the blog.

  2. Thanks. :)

    Well, the jurors all take an oath to give truthful responses to any questions. So (in theory) they shouldn't lie about that.



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