Speed dating for justice

Early reports (by way of the Star Tribune) say the amount of media coverage in the Amy Senser case was the focus today as jury selection got underway.


As the trial got underway at about 9:20 Monday morning, Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Mabley told potential jurors that there has been a lot of media coverage of the case. He then mentioned a questionnaire that had been sent to the jurors last week about that coverage.

In court, he asked how many people had seen or heard news coverage of the case since the questionnaire was sent out. Mabley took note of the ones who raised their hands.

Jury selection is tough on people whose careers involve telling people what’s going on because the answer to the judge’s question usually confirms that many people — sometimes most people — aren’t paying attention.

Of the people who raised their hand in answer to the judge’s question, most said they hadn’t seen much media coverage.

One who had acknowledged seeing a lot of coverage is still in the jury pool, after promising he could make a fair decision on the facts. We’ll see if someone who pays attention to the news is judged worthy or whether the ones who don’t know much about the biggest criminal story of 2011 make it.

Either way, the question of who makes a good juror is the stuff science is made of, or –as one lawyer puts it — “speed dating for justice.”


In most cases, lawyers look for the basics: people who are smart, can understand what’s going on in court and can make decisions. They have their eye out for people who will be able to control things when deliberations start. After that, it’s often a free-for-all, and many lawyers have their own preferences.

“I love mailmen. I don’t know what it is. They are all nice, friendly, talkative souls. They just seem to be happy, warm human beings,” says Keith Mitnik, of Morgan & Morgan, P.A., who has selected some 100 juries in his career. He has received multiple verdicts over $1 million and teaches the art of jury selection.

Engineers? Teachers? Military? Young? Old? Men? Women?

“I like engineers,” Mansbach said. “They tend to think logically and won’t be swayed by emotion.”

Some lawyers see teachers as more liberal and lenient because they deal with children. Military folks are sometimes favored because they know how to follow instructions and the law. Young people might be easily swayed by older jurors. Older people may be more conservative. Men might be good for a female client, but in general older men may be grouchier than younger men. Women may be good for clients suffering from breast cancer but may be tougher on a female rape victim who may appear to them to have acted inappropriately.

Jamie Harrison, who writes a blog at the University of Maryland, argues the system is antiquated.


Who is the perfect juror? Lawyers search for jurors who are so dimly aware of, and participate so infrequently in, their society that they have never come into contact with anything that might have provided them with information that they might use to form an intelligent and informed decision. This is because the attorneys want the jurors to only be conscious of information provided to them in court. A perfect juror, in their eyes, is a blank slate who can be effectively swayed by the words of lawyers. It makes no difference that adults who are “blank slates” are in this condition for a reason. So, by the process of negative selection, we arrive at a jury that is populated with individuals who are the least likely to employ complicated, nuanced reasoning when presented with evidence in court.

Having a jury of simple folk may have been workable in an age where the Cotton Gin represented the height of ingenuity, but is simply inadequate in modern times. Much of the physical evidence that jurors are expected to interpret today is highly technical, and many of the terms that will eventually decide guilt or innocence have definitions with multiple layers that require a depth of understanding to apply in real life. If the jury, during deliberations, recognizes this dilemma and asks for clarification or explanation of terms, they are usually told that this assistance would be inappropriate. This leaves them to grope about for a verdict with the same utter ignorance with which they first came to the courtroom. Confused jurors tend to ignore evidence, which favors the defendant

Question: Do you think you could sit on the Senser jury?

  • davidz

    I could be fair, but I believe that I would be frustrated sitting on any jury (never been called for it in my life). I am frequently presented with problems that I have to go forth and fix/resolve/understand. Not being able to direct or perform the problem resolution, but merely sitting and watching others do it, would be a huge problem for me. Not being able to keep notes; not being able to ask a question, or direct that a question be asked, etc.

    So maybe it’s a good thing that I haven’t been called.

  • jon

    I pay attention to the news, but I honestly had to look up who Amy Senser was.

    Guess this some how fell into the category of news I don’t care about, probably because the stories around it all seem to have the word “Vikings” attached to it. I don’t care about football so long as it isn’t my elected officials giving away money for a stadium.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Interesting info on jury selection.

    But I think it’s important to point out that what we have is not a Justice System, but rather a Legal System – where a finding or plea of guilty or not guilty most often comes down to the financial resources of the accused.

    The fact that no one is ever declared “innocent” speaks to the highly technical, RULE of law rather than the SPIRIT behind the law nature of the proceedings.

    Perhaps if a stint as public defender was a mandatory component of getting and maintaining one’s license to practice…

    Then, everyone’s right to a fair trial would be improved – but at the expense of some people’s rights to make as much money as they possibly can.

    I guess we can’t have that, can we.

    No big deal, I suppose. In the end, “Justice is Mine” Saith the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  • http://ofbuckleyandbeatles.wordpress.com/ Drae

    I think what Jim Shapiro meant to say was, “follow the money. Always.” ;-)

    I was once sent a jury summons, and was really excited to have the opportunity to serve my civic duty. Sadly, they never needed me to even come into the court building. But I did have one friend tell me I would never be selected for a jury because I wasn’t the type to be led to a conclusion by the lawyers. So I guess the second quote on jury selection fits more with what I’ve heard/been told. They don’t want people who can think for themselves, they want sheep who can be led by the nose.

  • bsimon

    I voted yes, I could be fair; but the defense has a steep hill to climb in explaining how a sober driver that wasn’t talking on the phone wasn’t negligent first in hitting the victim & 2nd, not reporting involvement for a week.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drae – I gotta hand it to you on this one.

    I had no problem pushing the CLASS angle, but the low average intelligence of a jury of our peers?!?

    You’re a braver man than I, my friend. :-)

  • Joanna

    My experience serving on a jury taught me that the law may contradict one’s sense of justice very starkly, and that juries will often decide based on what they think the outcome will be for the accused rather than on what they think is just. In our case, we agreed that the person defending himself from a charge of trespassing should never have been arrested in the first place, but that the way that the law was written and the way we were instructed to interpret it, we had no choice but to find the person guilty. Because we were sure he would be given probation and a warning rather than jail time, we ended up following the law and not our consciences, and finding him guilty. I am convinced that, had the stakes been higher, there would have been a hung jury. It was a fascinating experience because it showed me how deeply I have internalized a sense of “going along” even when that directly contravenes my personal sense of morality.

    I hope that anyone who ends up serving on this jury does the best that he/she can, and I’m so glad it doesn’t have to be me. The death may have been completely accidental, but not taking responsibility immediately was a harmful choice.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Joanna – Thanks for recounting your experience. You brought some positive light into my jaded perspective.

  • http://ofbuckleyandbeatles.wordpress.com/ Drae

    @Jim Shapiro -

    Except I’m not a man.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drae – Wow. Cool. Does that mean I have to be nicer? :-)

  • http://ofbuckleyandbeatles.wordpress.com/ Drae

    @Jim Shapiro -

    Why should my gender change anything?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Drae – The smiley face thing was meant to indicate that I was joking. I’m an equal opportunity insulter.

    But only when an adult isn’t using their Flying Spaghetti Monster-given cognitive abilities or heart.

    You might have noticed that I’m particularly hard on individuals for whom I hold higher expectations.

    I must admit that my clearly baseless pre-conceived notions of the written gender voice have been thrown to the wind, and my imagination wheels are spinning pretty fast.

    I was equally impressed by Isabel Allende, but I already knew that she was a woman.

    Enough of this small talk on Bob’s blog.

    En garde! :-)

  • http://ofbuckleyandbeatles.wordpress.com/ Drae

    @Jim Shapiro -

    And you may have noticed I’m not new to the internet debate forum/blog comment argument concept. In other words, it’s not the first time I’ve been mistaken for a male. And I’ve likewise fallen victim to assumptions about the gender/sex of my internet debate partners. You’d think I’d be more sensitive to that sort of thing, but I think it goes to show that aggressive or assertive behavior is still considered to be a masculine quality so that people who display these traits on internet forums tend to be considered male (unless accompanied by a obviously feminine user name). Right or wrong, these are the assumptions people make…