Good Question: What Does A Lawyer Look For In A Jury?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Jury selection is underway in the trial of St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez.

He shot and killed Philando Castile last summer at a traffic stop.

Forty-nine potential jurors were questioned in person Wednesday by attorneys for 15 spots — 12 jurors and three alternates.

But what does a lawyer look for in a jury? WCCO-TV spoke with Diane Wiley, president and senior trial consultant at the National Jury Project.

“They’re not looking at one juror, they’re looking at one group of jurors and they need to decide which jurors they’re going to dismiss,” Wiley said. “You don’t pick a jury, you unpick a jury.”

Potential jurors are given a questionnaire in some cases, with questions ranging from education, to views on religion, to relationships with lawyers.

The questionnaire in the Yanez case is 14-pages long and focuses on firearms, race and law enforcement.

Attorneys can ask a juror be excused for cause in the first rounds of jury selection. The judge must agree in these cases.

Wiley says jurors are most often excused for cause if they are connected to someone in the case, or if they indicate they have already made up their minds.

Wiley says she’s often asked if she prefers smart people or stupid people on her jury, or if she wants jurors with a particular occupation or age.

She says she answers “no,” because some stereotypes can offer insights about a person’s final decision — but those stereotypes have to be checked.

“What’s really most important is what people’s opinions are,” she says. “We want people whose opinions are good for our side. We want to get rid of people whose opinions hurt us.”

Attorneys can challenge jurors and not give any reason in the final rounds of jury selection. In the Yanez case, the defense has five challenges and the prosecution has three.

Wiley has been asked recently if being a trial consultant is similar to the CBS television show “Bull.”

“‘Bull’ is bull,” she said. “It’s fiction.”

Attorneys will pull public records on potential jurors in some cases, or check their Facebook posts.

Often, though, they don’t have the resources or time for that kind of research.

She also points out any attorney who contacts a potential juror or someone close to them could be held in contempt of court.

Wiley says given the adversarial nature of the American court system, the hope is that the jury will have as little bias as possible.

“If you have people who’ve already made up their mind, what’s the point of the trial?” she said.

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