Courts Reopening

CALIFORNIA COURTS – DECEMBER 2020

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says the CA state court’s remote technology is in good shape and hearings most likely will continue remotely post pandemic. While the Chief Justice sees a little more optimism today, than the budget cuts that CA’s courts had during the recession a decade ago, jury issues are a different matter. There is a digital divide that makes jury selection and conducting remote trials not as desirable as face to face in court.https://www.courthousenews.com/california-chief-justice-sees-many-court-pandemic-changes-as-permanent

 IN-COURT JURY SELECTION DURING COVID TIMES – OCTOBER 2020: 

COVID-19 increased the backlog for both civil and criminal trials. Criminal cases slowly returned to the courtroom before civil trials. Since the Sixth Amendment mandates that criminal cases are public, some state courts opt to use cameras with online links for public viewing during this pandemic. Cameras in the courts allow family or friends of the defendant(s), additional counsel, media and/or jury consultants to virtually view the case in real time.

Viewing a state court criminal case online, I was impressed with the court’s safety measures. Social distancing in the courtroom included jurors spread through the audience gallery, rather than packed into the jury box. For the panel of 36 in the venire, the third set of 12 jurors sat in the courtroom next door. Jurors were voir dired in the audience gallery for each group of 12. There were three cameras on the jurors with one camera monitor for the jurors in the adjacent courtroom. Jurors could watch the voir dire and we could watch the jurors. Two cameras focused on counsel, judge and witnesses. We assisted jury selection virtually with a strike list sent via text to the trial team.

Advanced preparation aided our virtual selection as jurors were addressed by their number, rather than name, in the courtroom. The jury questionnaries and social media searches added insights for decision-making for the strike list. Our trial observations and suggestions throughout trial enhanced trial counsel’s closing arguments, as well as jury selection. A young man now has his freedom to plan his life, rather than spend 12 years in prison for a tragic car accident that took the life of his passenger, his best friend. Jurors believed that the hand signal from the witness sitting in his truck, caused the young driver stopped at the stop sign, to cross the highway when his view was obstructed from oncoming traffic.

Jury Selection and Voir Dire – It All Happens so Fast

Asking the right questions during voir dire is important in determining bias. Being prepared for voir dire makes a difference in correctly removing a potentially negative juror. Scientific jury selection with rigorous research to test hypotheses is preferred. With a sufficient number of mock jurors, predictors that differentiate jurors who favor plaintiffs from those who favor defendants generally surface. Secondarily, understanding body language and observing jurors’ reactions to questions is critical. We also educate on Batson and Wheeler challenges.

Jury Questionnaires – Optimizing a Strike List

Jury questionnaires in the courtroom are more frequently used today. There is an art to eliciting rich qualitative responses from the courtroom questionnaire. In conjunction with jury research studies, we incorporate predictive questions.

Jury questionnaires used in court are distinct from jury research questionnaires. For high profile or sensitive cases where large jury pools are used, we manage jurors’ questionnaires for strategic jury selection and producing a strike list.