Scientific Jury Selection

Scientific Jury Selection In a CBS TV show titled Bull, actor Michael Weatherly plays Jason Bull, a psychologist ad jury consultant for Trial Analysis Corporation, a fictional firm. From one episode to the next, Bull uses his skills both to select a jury for his clients and then to decide how best to argue the case to that jury. In one episode, he monitors mock jurors’ physiological reactions through palm- reading devices. In another, he claims to know how jurors will vote by analyzing their nonverbal behavior.

This depiction of jury consulting is largely a work of fiction, not fact. But it is based on a kernel of truth. Instead of relying on hunches, successful stock mar- ket investors, baseball managers, and poker players play the odds whenever they can. Now many trial lawyers do too. In recent years, the “art” of jury selection has been transformed into something of a “science”.

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This use of jury consultants began in the 1970s during the Vietnam War era, when the federal government prosecuted a group of antiwar activists known as the Harrisburg Seven. The case against the defendants was strong, and the trial was to be held in the conservative city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. To help the defense select a jury, sociologist Jay Schulman and colleagues (1973) surveyed the local community by interviewing 840 residents. Two kinds of information were taken from each resident: demographic (eg., sex, race, age, and education) and attitudes relevant to the trial (eg., attitudes toward the government, the war, and political dissent). By correlating these variables, Schulman’s team came up with a profile of the ideal defense juror: “a female Democrat with no religious preference and a white-collar job or a skilled blue-collar job”. Guided by this result, the defense selected its jury. The rest is history: Against all odds, the trial ended in a hung jury, split 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal.

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