Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Some information about the MJ jury questionnaire

Lots of potential jurors for the 5-6 month Michael Jackson trial. According to CourtTV:

Trial observer Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco assistant district attorney, said jury selection may be going faster than expected because more than the usual number of prospective jurors were willing to participate in the case.

"I think part of it is the celebrity factor, being a part of history," Hammer said. "If anything, more than half this jury (pool) is willing to serve."

I'd like to compare this 50% rate of ability to serve on a 6-month trial with the typical willingness of jurors to serve on other, shorter trials. I am betting it's better. As Mike Johnson commented in an earlier post: "Wow! Book deals must be lucrative." Courtroom observers all noted that many jury pool members seemed very interested in seeing Jackson in person, and who can blame them?

The LA Times and other sources say that the Michael Jackson jury questionnaire has been released. According to the LA Times story today:

The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case today released an eight-page jury questionnaire that stunned some legal experts with its bare-bones approach to ferreting out attitudes about complex issues in the pop star's upcoming trial.

The questionnaire asks potential jurors 41 questions, with most requiring simple yes-no or multiple choice responses.

Only about a dozen questions appear to directly address issues in the case. The rest are for the most part generic queries about employment, residence, marital status and education. "I was surprised that it wasn't more detailed and didn't really press jurors for their attitudes," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School. "It's not unusual in high-profile cases to see questionnaires that run 50 or 75 pages."

Attorneys for both sides are poring over responses from some 250 jury candidates who this week indicated a willingness to serve for as long as six months. Next Monday, the attorneys will start interviewing each prospective juror in court, using the completed questionnaires as their guide.

The questions were crafted by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville after receiving a more extensive list assembled jointly by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Some questions clearly are tailored to the case, in which Jackson is charged with molesting a 13-year-old cancer patient.

Prospective jurors are asked whether they or any relatives or close friends have been accused of or victimized by "inappropriate sexual behavior." They also are asked whether they or people close to them have done any work for children's advocacy groups.... One question asks whether prospective jurors or their loved ones have been diagnosed with cancer. ...The questionnaire also addresses racial issues, asking whether "your feelings about or experiences with people from different races might affect your ability to serve as a fair and impartial juror in this case."
Although I'll wait to see a copy of the questionnaire before making up my mind, I'm cautiously optimistic that this is a sensible and effective questionnaire. Unlike the outrageously long, overly detailed, and sometimes downright offensive OJ questionnaire (I suspect Laurie Levenson had that case on her mind), this one seems to tailor questions to the important and significant features of the case that might cause jurors to be biased. I worry a bit about the fact that most of the questions ask for "simple yes-no or multiple choice responses" since open-ended responses can provide a more nuanced picture of jurors' views, but I suspect that the judge and the attorneys will follow up the yes-no responses with open-ended questions in court that will further explore potential jurors' experiences and views.

For more on what makes for effective jury selection, see an article I wrote with my student Alayna Jehle for the Chicago-Kent Law Review.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to compare this 50% rate of ability to serve on a 6-month trial with the typical willingness of jurors to serve on other, shorter trials. I am betting it's better.If you have been "studying, researching, and writing about the jury as an institution for more than 30 years," shouldn't you know this? Putting this kind of number in context is one of the things I would read a blog about juries for. From your last post, I got the impression that 50% refusing to serve was a high number, but in this post it's not.

Criticism aside, even discounting the celebrity factor I would prefer to be on jury duty for six months instead of six days. I imagine myself sequestered in a hotel, on vacation from work for six months.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Valerie Hans said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Valerie Hans said...

You are so right, we should have better information about the rate of juror hardship excuses than we do. Lots of things enter into the rate -- how the jury pool is selected, how good the list is, whether hardship excuses are handled by the jury office, and so on. Many people who are mailed summonses don't respond or get excused without coming to court. So I've seen very diverse estimates of the proportion of the jury pool who ask for excuses when they get to the courtroom. For more on juror usage see Tom Munsterman's thoughtful piece at

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the link. It mostly covers what happens to this 50% who volunteers -- looks like 80% of them won't get selected. I didn't realize most people who get a jury summons are gone only one day. Oh well.

9:35 AM  
Blogger John D. Gilleland, PhD said...

I think you need to clarify how "willing to serve" is defined, as this is usually not the question that is actually asked (and there is no reference to such a question in the MJ questionnaire).

Sometimes jurors are asked if they want to serve, but I think what you're normally reporting is the percentage who did not affirmatively list a hardship of one sort or another (e.g., childcare, medical or financial - can't miss work, no pay while serving). The question is typically something like, "Is there any reason you would not be able to serve on this jury?"

There probably also needs to be a distinction between willing to serve and able to serve, as many who are actually then questioned on this topic profess a willingness, but just not now, at this time in their life.

In a recent jury selection in Utah we actually had the question, "Do you want to sit on the jury in this case?" with response options of "yes" or "no" and "please explain your answer." Here yet another factor undoubtedly contributed to the strong "willingness" to serve (the 90% Mormon population - civic duty, responsibility to the community, etc.). Nearly 70% of the 94 jurors who completed the questionnaire said "yes" (only 10% "no," with the remaining writing in answers like "indifferent" or "I'm willing to do my part if needed"). And this high percentage of those actually "willing" to serve was for an estimated 6-8 week civil trial.

Before we start comparing willingness to serve across venues and types of trials we need to define how that concept is actually measured or reported.

12:27 PM  
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3:28 PM  

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