As we’ve been watching the preliminary voir dire of dozens of prospective jurors over the past week or so we’ve heard innumerable mentions of a “juror questionnaire.” This is simply a list of questions, agreed to by both parties and the Court, which the jurors are asked to complete in writing before being questioned in voir dire. Their answers help the Court and parties quickly identify prospective jurors who must be dismissed as a matter of course–for example, if they are related to or have a business interest with one of the parties.
Their answers can also shed a subtle but discerning light on any prejudices they might bring to the trial that could prevent them from serving as a fair and impartial juror. Some of these questions often seem completely irrelevant to the case at hand–such as, “Please list your 3 favorite TV shows,” or “Please list the 3 people you admire most/least”–but to a skilled jury consultant the responses to these questions can provide a deep insight into the prospective jurors covert prejudices.
The defense has retained a world-class jury consultant in the person of Robert B. Hirschhorn, of Cathy E. Bennett & Associates.
Robert B. Hirschhorn is an attorney and a nationally recognized expert in jury and trial consultation. He is a co-author of Blue’s Guide to Jury Selection, which is currently available from Thompson-West Publishing. Mr. Hirschhorn has been a jury consultant since 1985. In 2005, he selected juries that returned more than $750 Million in verdicts. Those cases include Lexar v. Toshiba (breach of fiduciary duty; $461 Million) and Ernst v. Merck (1st Vioxx litigation; $253 Million). He has also assisted lawyers in many high-profile criminal cases including State of Florida v. William Kennedy Smith (sexual assault charges, not guilty verdict), State v. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (ethics charges, not-guilty verdict), and State v. Robert Durst (acquitted of murder charges). Mr. Hirschhorn has appeared on Good Morning America,MSNBC, Court TV, CNN, Dateline NBC, 48 Hours, Nightline, and many national radio programs. He lectures nationwide to lawyers and judges on the art of jury selection.
I have obtained a copy of the jury questionnaire used by Attorney Hirschhorn in State v. Durst, a rather heinous murder trial (for Wiki-sourced details click here) in which, astonishingly, Durst was acquitted, likely in no small part to skilled application of jury selection expertise.
If you’ve never before had the opportunity to see a juror questionnaire, nows your chance.