In his chapter on Jury Selection, Thomas Mauet suggests we put ourselves in the shoes of the prospective jurors in order to identify with them and maximize the opportunities that come from voir dire. This is what he says:
“Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective juror. You recently received your notice to appear for jury duty. This morning you arrived at the courthouse, waited in the jury room most of the morning, read a pamphlet about jury service, and were finally called, with about 30 other persons, and brought to a courtroom. You just entered the courtroom and sat down. You can see the judge on the bench, and various other persons in the front of the courtroom. And then you wait some more.”(Fundamentals of Trial Techniques, (3d. ed.) p.23.)
Sadly, during all of the years I have reported for jury duty, I’ve never even made it into a courtroom as a prospective juror. So for now I have to try to imagine what goes through the minds of prospective jurors as they get seated and are questioned by the judge and the attorneys. Mauet helps us along:
“Most jurors have little or no experience in the courtroom. They are in the midst of strangers. They are apprehensive and intimidated. They are worried that their ignorance about the jury trial system will show. They are concerned about their life’s secrets being exposed.” (Id.)
It would never have occurred to me that prospective jurors worry about secrets being exposed. If I reflect on it, though, some people are very uncomfortable revealing, even to one other person, the most basic information, such as their occupation, education level, etc. Of course, voir dire questions often get more personal, including your past experience with the civil or criminal justice system, whether you’ve been a victim or sued. Knowing most of the jurors are uncomfortable, and some even petrified, what’s a trial lawyer to do? Mauet suggests we “turn it around.”
“Change from being a stranger to being the jurors’ friend. If they feel intimidated, reassure them. If they are among strangers, make them feel comfortable. If they are worried about their ignorance, help them become informed. If they are concerned that secrets in their past will be exposed, reassure them. In short, the jury selection process is an opportunity for a trial lawyer to become the jurors’ friend and guide by helping them understand the trial system, by reassuring that they do belong here, and by letting hem know that their participation is important to you and your party.” (Id.)
Making strangers feel comfortable, reassuring them that publicly sharing their personal and family history is necessary and appropriate, is a pretty tall order. Is it possible? In some cases probably not. But Mauet’s point is well-taken. Recognizing the feelings and emotions of potential jurors, and attempting to connect with them in a way that is both human and humane, is surely the first step toward gaining their trust.