Says Jury Service Leads to Fairness
Experience seems to make people see both sides of issues
David E. Rovella
The National Law Journal
February 28, 2002
jurors tend to make judgments before all the facts are in, but those who
have previously served as jurors tend to be more fair the second time around,
a national poll says.
The fourth annual Juror Outlook Survey, conducted by The National Law Journal and DecisionQuest, a national jury consulting firm, involved 1,007 jury-eligible adults questioned between Oct. 15 and Oct. 29, 2001. It found that 63 percent of them had been called to jury duty in the past, and 24 percent had actually served on juries. Of that group, almost 9 of 10 reported having deliberated to a verdict.
"People with prior jury service tended to be more neutral and less favorable toward one or the other," says Michael Biek, a trial consultant with DecisionQuest who analyzed the poll data. "People with jury experience are more familiar with the idea that another side of the story may be coming.
"In a civil context, it's more helpful to a defendant -- they're not necessarily going to be biased in favor of the defendant, but they will be more willing to wait for the other side of the story. I would expect this would hold in a criminal context as well."
Indeed, faced with the statement that a defendant's not taking the stand in his own defense meant the person had something to hide, ex-jurors were more likely to disagree than others.
In the civil justice context, the poll suggests that ex-jurors are less likely to be initially biased in favor of the plaintiff in a lawsuit.
"They hear the same instructions again, they hear once again about making no inference," says Sanford Brook, chief judge of the Indiana Court of Appeals and associate director of public programs for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy.
"No matter what side you're on, you have to determine whether or not prior jury service is beneficial to your side and the issues you are putting in front of the jury," he says. "If I'm defending in a criminal case, and my client is not going to take the stand, and there are two people who have already served on jury trial, I want them. But if I'm in the prosecutor's seat, I'm going to want to find a reason to challenge these people for cause."
Younger respondents tended to favor plaintiffs more than older ones. Those with jury experience were generally older, retired, single homeowners with better educations than those with none.
In the context of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, ex-jurors were more likely to agree that law enforcement agencies should have more power to conduct investigations, such as by using more wiretaps on phone lines and monitoring Internet use. Respondents with no jury experience were more likely to say that they are unsure. That result, says Brook, reflects the general difference among age groups on law enforcement issues.
Of those who served on a jury, 33 percent had master's degrees, and only 6 percent had not completed high school.
Related to this was the breakdown of jury service by income. A full 41 percent of respondents who earned more than $100,000 a year reported having served on a jury. Only 30 percent of those with incomes between $75,000 and $99,000 had served on juries, and only 11 percent of those polled with incomes less than $15,000 had done so.
"The wealthiest serving so much may be a simple function of age," says Biek. "The older you are, the more likely you are to have served, the more likely to be a homeowner, the more likely to have a high income."
Brook sees the salary information as incidental to prospective jurors' educational background. He says that educated Americans tend to believe in the greater purpose and responsibility of jury service and that such people also tend to be the wealthiest.
Among other results:
• Respondents from California, Texas and New York were more likely to have served on juries than those from the Midwest and South.
• Potential jurors in California, Oregon and Washington were most likely to have previously served on juries, while those in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee had the lowest rate of service.
• Respondents with previous jury experience were less likely to be afraid of serving on a jury in a federal courthouse than others.
Jurors still generally respect judges, the poll suggests. Of those who had served as jurors, 82 percent said they believed that the judges in their cases did a good job. Some 13 percent said that the judges did only an "OK" job, and only 2 percent said the judges could have done much better.
Lawyers appear to be less admired. Only 45 percent of the respondents said they felt that the lawyers did a good job getting to the point and not wasting time. Some 28 percent said that the lawyers did an OK job, and 22 percent said that the attorneys could have done much better.
The poll also found that, by a three-to-one margin, individuals who served on juries in trials in which graphic exhibits were used said the exhibits helped them understand the case.
Out of the 42 percent of those polled who had both served in cases in which lawyers used charts and other graphic exhibits at trial, 75 percent of them reported that the exhibits assisted their understanding. Only 4 percent responded the graphics made the presentation more confusing.
Brook finds it disturbing that more lawyers don't use graphics at trial.
"Although the greatest percentage of trials in the U.S. are criminal trials where the least amount of money is available, I don't think we adequately train prospective trial lawyers with respect to the importance of illustrative and demonstrative evidence," he says.