Are Jurors Delivering Messages, Influenced By TV?


The focus on jurors in a few high-profile cases like Tyco and Martha Stewart is leading some experts to urge more attention to changes in juror behavior, says the Christian Science Monitor. “We have a lot of highly publicized cases, and with highly publicized cases people tend to form opinions,” says Jeff Frederick, director of jury research at Charlottesville National Legal Research Group in Virginia. “There is concern about the possibility of jurors coming in with a little bit more of a fixed notion of what they want to do.”

Corporate scandals like Enron can appear to be opportunities to dispense social justice. “You get in there [as a juror], and you want to help the little guy,” says Gillian Drake, of On Trial Associates, a legal consultancy in Chevy Chase, Md. Lawyers leverage such feelings. In the Stewart case, “the prosecution knew it was the jury issue, not the legal issue, so they played up the jury issue, which was class consciousness. They took advantage of that. There are jury issues and there are legal issues … [and] depending on which side you’re on, sometimes you’re trying to blend them and sometimes you’re trying to keep them separate.”

The majority of jurors are not likely to let message delivery be their primary motivation, says David Ball of JuryWatch in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

More states draw jurors from among residents with driver’s licenses, not from voter rolls or lists of property owners, so the mix has broadened in terms of education level and civic-mindedness. Some experts worty that a small but growing segment of jurors may be tuning out attorneys and judges as their respect for the court erodes.

Even on matters of courtroom procedure, jurors are being educated by the media and movies, says Patricia McEvoy of Zagnoli McEvoy and Foley in Chicago. “People are learning about what’s going on behind the scenes. And rather than focus on this trial, this evidence, this law, this situation, which is what they’re supposed to do … they may have these other agendas,” she says. “It’s the job of both sides during jury selection to figure this out.”


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