Juror privacy rights?

I’ve said before that lawyers fear jurors (and it’s clearly because they know they can’t control jurors and aren’t even sure they can persuade them). Surfing the web, I’ve come across several lawyer blogs with a “teach-em-to-heel” theme. One that’s very interesting is a WI lawyer’s blog (she seems to want to remain nameless) called “Deliberations.”

  • Caveat: Turn off your speakers before you click the link, because you’ll get a Starbuck’s ad and then a loud TV voice.

But, if you’re on your way to jury duty, I urge you to study this site. Among the most interesting items there is a “Voir Dire Resources” link. Included are real jury questionnaires. They will shock you if you think jurors have a right to privacy.

Take a look at People v. Juan Luna (Brown’s Chicken Massacre, a case that took decades to solve). I note that the document is labeled “proposed,” so I don’t know that it was actually used in the trial. Let’s hope not.

Why? First, a prospective juror’s responses to the questions are public. They are provided to both the defense and the prosecution in advance of voir dire so the lawyers can ask further questions. Voir dire is conducted in open court, in front of not only the accused, his friends, family, and gang, but also the public, which may include bloggers and journalists.

Once a juror is selected to serve, the questionnaires and the voir dire become part of the official trial records. These records are available to the public after the trial. If the losing side in a trial wishes, it can pursue legal action against a juror based on the questionnaire and voir dire responses (perjury charges, for example).

Now I’m all for honest jurors without an ax to grind. And I appreciate lawyers’ fears that a lying, bitter, prejudiced citizen might end up on a jury. But the vast majority of people who serve on juries aren’t like that—but they give up their privacy anyway.

In the People v. Juan Luna questionnaire, note that right up front they want your Social Security Number. (I guess they never heard of identity theft or at least don’t care if jurors end up with ruined credit when the defendant’s deadbeat brother gets hold of the questionnaire.)

On page 3, the questionnaire asks not only for your complete, current address but also all prior addresses since the crime occurred. Why? Because the lawyers plan to do a complete credit search and background search and they want you to make it easy for them. All they really need to know legally is that you are a citizen residing in the court’s jurisdiction and there’s no reason to believe you can’t be objective. How does your residential history figure into that?

Questions 9 and 10 (smallest and largest communities in which the juror ever resided) are a trick to get the juror to reveal addresses before the crime occurred—completely irrelevant but useful for impugning a juror.

Then it gets really personal. I’ll let you read that for yourself, but I would like to point out that it asks for personal information about everyone in your extended family, your employers, and your friends and acquaintances. In other words, they want prospective jurors to expose private matters of everyone in their social network, not only themselves. In the two voir dire sessions I sat through, the judge asked everyone about family members prior involvement in trials—that’s all. I felt this was intrusive, foolish me.

The only question they forgot to ask was: What is your Facebook login ID and password?

If I ever receive a summons with a questionnaire like this attached, I plan to consult a lawyer before I respond.

What to Wear to Jury Duty–or Not Wear, as the “case” may be

I’ve had so many hits on my handful of blog posts related to what to wear to jury duty that I’ve caved in and done my civic duty: I’ve added a web page to my website, www.ccmambretti.com, on this fascinating topic. If you want the real scoop on dressing for jury duty, please visit the page at www.ccmambretti.com/What_to_wear_to_jury_duty.html . On my website you’ll also find a quiz called (facetiously) “Avoid Jury Duty” and a page of juror resources.

I hope it helps some of you who like me believe that jury duty is a duty and a privilege. And that people who take the time to serve are good people.

What Not to Wear for Jury Duty: Appropriate Attire and Bonding

Last month I came across a blogger who was headed to jury duty for the first time. She wrote a funny blog on courtroom fashion at DC Goodwill Fashion. (I wonder if she was selected for a jury.)

This issue of what not to wear for jury duty is quite interesting. A Google search of “blog what to wear for jury duty” produces 95,800 English listings, many of which focus on how to get out of jury duty by dressing inappropriately. The consensus seems to be that “business casual” is appropriate, so anything too casual or too formal or “fancy” is not.

However, these bloggers are jurors or prospective jurors. What really counts is what lawyers and judges think.

Anne Reed, an attorney in Milwaukee, posted this interesting take on the issue, including the (IMHO) “obnoxious” practice of jurors dressing alike as a sign of bonding. She also mentions some courts in which a specific dress code obtains.

Which leads me to this issue of jury bonding. One day in the jury deliberation room, one of the jurors described her real-life job, which was something like “keeping the stud book” for animals at a local zoo. This naturally led to some jokes and considerable laughter. Later, the bailiff came into the room and mentioned that our laughter could be heard in the courtroom, but that was OK because the judge liked it when “her jurors bonded.” OK, I know what is meant by that is that a copasetic group is more likely to reach a verdict than a fractured jury. 

But in the interests of justice, a fractured jury that reaches a verdict is more likely to have reached a consensus on the facts rather than based on common feelings and values. Shouldn’t the judge always be wary of too much bonding?

What do you think? I’d especially like to know what other lawyers, judges, and jury consultants think about both jury attire and jury bonding