Jury selection is perhaps the single most important component of court proceedings, especially in civil cases. Any mistake during this early step can literally make or break your case. Even worse, you may not realize you’ve made the mistake until it’s far too late to rectify the issue — and save your verdict.
To avoid any common mistakes, use these five tips to improve your jury selection for civil cases.
Understand the Rules of Jury Selection
Many is the case that went south in its later stages because the rules weren’t followed during jury selection. The last thing you want is to find out that your opponent has grounds for appeal because you made a mistake while selecting your jury. Even worse, since both parties can appeal a civil judgment, you’re not protected simply because you’re on the defending side of the courtroom, unlike in criminal cases.
Every state and local jurisdiction has its own set of rules for jury selection, but these are some of the most frequent and universally applicable:
In most cases the size of your jury will be 6 to 12 jurors, so make sure you’re planning your choices accordingly. Six is the de facto standard in most jurisdictions, but you’ll often have grounds to ask for a larger jury during negotiation with the presiding judge and your opponent counsel.
You’ll usually have to designate a pool of alternate jurors who will only take their place in the jury if a primary juror is removed or excused from the proceedings for some reason. Accordingly, you want to make sure your alternates are just as good a fit for your side as the primaries are because it’s perfectly possible they’ll become primary jurors themselves.
Both sides of the case will have a chance to ask jurors questions that might reveal why they’re biased or otherwise unfit to serve as an objective observer of the proceedings. In that case, you’ll have a number of chances to dismiss a juror for cause.
However, you’ll also have a set number of chances to dismiss jurors with a peremptory challenge, effectively “because we want to.” Make sure you’re not wasting a peremptory challenge on a juror if you can argue they should be dismissed for cause instead.
Create a Juror Profile
A juror profile lets you create a statistical outline of your most probable beneficial and detrimental jurors. Juror profiles can include basic information like simple demographic data, but for the best results it should also include information that’s tailored to your specific case. For example, if your case involves a specific industry, you’ll want to make sure your juror profile can identify prospective jurors who are likely to be sympathetic or antagonistic to players in that industry.
Juror profiling is a complex endeavor. Learn more about how juror profiling research can help you with the jury selection process.
Show Appreciation for Their Time
Most of the jurors you’ll be in contact with are going to feel as if they’re suffering a burden because they were selected for jury duty. Accordingly, you need to ensure that you’re showing appreciation and respect for the time they’re being forced to give you. Doing so will establish a good relationship and can make them more likely to answer your questions honestly and openly.
Conversely, getting on a potential juror’s bad side can make them hostile to your case. In the worst scenario, they may even keep that hostility a secret and only reveal it by voting against you in the deliberation room.
Whatever the case, you’re going to struggle unnecessarily to elicit biases and disqualifying factors during juror questioning if they’re already hostile towards you.
Ask About Their One Degree Removed Experiences
In every jury selection process your goal is to find people who are clearly disqualified to objectively evaluate a case because they have some relation or connection to the case’s players or context. However, you also need to ensure you’re assessing their “one degree removed” experiences.
For example, if your case involves a large construction company, your first step is to find out whether a juror has any connection to the construction industry. But you’re not done there — you also need to find out how they’re connected to any one degree removed factors. For example, have they been involved in a civil lawsuit for a large company in any industry? Have they ever had a bad experience with home renovations, or plumbing, or even any contractor of any type?
Their answers to those questions could reveal a bias that’s worthy of dismissal.
Be Aware of Preconceived Notions
Always remember that you’re not just monitoring the jurors’ biases, you’re monitoring yours as well. Be aware of any stereotypes that might be blinding you to the actual opinions of jurors. By monitoring your own perceptions in those areas, you can ensure that you’re genuinely finding the best jurors, and not simply those you’d expect to be the best.
With proper planning and good execution, you can ensure you pick the jury that’s most likely to rule in your favor. Ready to start your trial? Contact us for more information today!