Overcoming Tough Issues in Trial- Jury Selection


The issues in our story, jury selection

I’ve never had a jury panel as unfavorable as this one seemed to be.  Carolynn and I are sitting at a table alone, while the prosecutor is doing his best to minimize his burden and instill fear in the minds of the potential jurors.  We hear the jurors talk about relatives injured or killed by intoxicated drivers.   One of the jurors begins to cry as she tells us about her husband being killed by a drunk.  Before I stand up, all kinds of thoughts and feelings are racing through my head.  “What am I going to do with this?”  “I should have found a way to put this trial off for another day”.  “I was ready at the last setting, why couldn’t I have tried the case then”.  “I’m blaming myself, because I shouldn’t have asked the judge for a continuance in July so I could go to Wyoming”.   “We don’t have a chance to win this now”.  “If the case in front of us wouldn’t have pled, we wouldn’t be here now”.  “Why does Carolynn have to be the unlucky person to get this jury?”   Remember, my typical response to feeling helpless and how anxiety can get in my way?  Since I can’t run or come back another day, I stand up and walk around the table and face them.  After all, if it goes bad, I can always blame the jury later.

If I had not taken the time to look at myself and work on my issues, I would probably have become overly nervous, anxious, and would have allowed the feeling of helplessness take its control.  I probably would have resorted to some of the useless, harmful phrases and questions that came so easily over the years.  “As Carolynn sits here, she is presumed innocent”.  “She doesn’t have to produce any evidence at all”.  “Mr. Jones, if we stop now and you hear nothing else during this trial, what does your verdict have to be?”  It is embarrassing as I type and think about using those words of the past.  I probably would have argued with the jurors who disagreed with me while trying to control their responses for fear that any more bad answers would surely kill my efforts to help Carolynn.  I would have become tied the seemingly important legal questions I wanted to ask.  Their answers would mean nothing really since I had to move on to my next great question and I would not have heard them.  How are we doing?  Are we making progress with this panel?  When we conduct this type of “Voir Dire”, we may feel pretty cool, smart, or slick, but the momentum isn’t moving to our side.  How does the juror feel when we ask him the clever or trick question?  How do the jurors feel when we attempt to control them?  How do the other potential jurors feel as they watch this take place?  How do we feel, when we are in their seats?  Carolynn would be better off if we spent the 30 minutes talking about a recent football game.

Instead, I face the panel.  Internally, I ask myself, “What is really going on with me as I stand up?  What am I feeling? What is the jury feeling?”  I acknowledge what I’m feeling in that moment i.e. feeling of anxiety and/or the helpless feeling and realize my potential to lose control of myself, the part of me, that I’ve struggled with in the past.  I’m still not warmed up to this task and the jury isn’t warmed up much either, certainly not to me.  I look around at the panel a moment and ask them if anyone has an idea about what’s going on with me right now?  Does anyone have an idea of how I’m feeling now?  There is a little bit of silence, but they are working on it.  Sometimes, we don’t like silence, and feel like we have to talk, and of course then, we usually ruin it.  One juror near the middle of the panel speaks up, says something like, “you’ve got a problem”.   I might say, “Tell me what you mean?” or “Yes, with all this about drunk drivers, it isn’t looking very good for Carolynn is it?” or maybe, “I heard that too, but we’ve got these rights- presumption of innocence, right to remain silent, state’s burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.  We’ve got nothing to worry about, right?” (Semi facetiously)  Basically, I listen to this juror and acknowledge him in some way.  We use our judgment to decide how we want to acknowledge their answers.  It might be as simple as “Yes”, a nod, or “I imagine you were frustrated”

Although it has been a part of my training for the last twelve (12) years, I didn’t realize that I was using what Carl Rogers believes is key to creating a climate that benefits us.  When we are genuine, or real, our body language will be congruent with our words.  Instead of arguing with the jurors, we accept them where they are.  Finally, we listen to their answers and sincerely acknowledge them rather than hurrying to our next great question.

Well, we’ve used our time wisely and discussed the issues important in Carolynn’s story and managed to gain a little momentum, but we’ve got a long way to go.  The state will give their brief opening statement and call their witnesses that will surely say that Carolynn is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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