Jury Selection: science or ‘dark art’?


The practice of jury selection, choosing those people who are going to be the ‘representative’ group of peers that are there to judge the defendant. Is this process becoming more of a dark art or is it a science based on the lawyers previous experience?

“Despite all the reforms of the latter half of the last century, juries in England and Wales mostly still do not reflect the broad range of skills and experience or ethnic diversity of the communities from which they are drawn.” [quote]

In the crime section of the A2 module we look at the psychology of the courtroom and how many factors can influence the decision that is made. What kind of influence can the makeup of the jury have on the decision though? Some would argue quite profound: “…almost every case has been won or lost when the jury is sworn,” legendary attorney Clarence Darrow once claimed.

There have been a few articles recently looking at jury selection and the effect it can have on the decision of that jury. In America, jury section is becoming a thriving business whereby consultants will come in and coach people involved in the trial:

“…Today, trial [jury] consulting is a whole industry that just begins with jury selection; experts also offer witness preparation, rhetorical coaching, refinement of arguments.” [quote]

Does scientific jury selection even work? Real-world success rates are impossible to measure. A true controlled study would require two parallel juries, one selected at random, one professionally culled. Demographics and personality indicators improve the ability to predict a juror’s decision only by 10 to 15 percent on average.  Scientific jury selection may be best at identifying the most extreme jurors, those most likely to drive the deliberation in a particular direction.

Obviously, if the jury is biased in anyway then this raises issues as to the reliability and validity of any verdict that they come to. It’s the whole idea behind trial-by-jury to be tried by a fiar and impartial group of your peers? If this is the case then should the jury selection be random? However, this itself raises issues of representativeness as the size of juries are relatively small (usually 12) and one adamant juror in a group of 12 could create a runaway jury that pumps up the award in a civil case. In criminal cases, just one reluctant panellist can hang the whole jury.

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