Although there are many logistical questions to be answered by the court in advance of voir dire, one of the most important questions we always ask when preparing for jury selection is, “When can we receive the jury list?” While some courts will give the list to the attorneys a week (or sometimes more) before trial, others only give the list to the attorneys on the morning of jury selection. Regardless of when you receive the list, knowing when it will be available will help the jury selection team to coordinate social networking searches on the jurors.
The Importance of Receiving the Jury List Earlier Than the Start of Trial
Obviously, the earlier the list is available, the more time the internet searchers will have to look for information on the jurors, and the more thorough those searches can be. That is, they can spend more time searching multiple avenues on the web to be sure all stones have been turned and that peripheral information about a juror lurking on the web is found. For example, as we search for people, it is important to take time to search for all possible name variations. For instance, we start by using a juror’s full name as it appears in the jury list. If I were a juror, my name would appear as “Elizabeth Babbitt.” As one searches for me using my full name, information may come up about my job, or a speeding ticket I had in the past, but to access my true social media profiles one would have to search for the nickname most people know me by – Liz. Furthermore, historically, I registered my social media accounts under my maiden name, which would not come up in a search for my married last name. Names like “Elizabeth” have countless nicknames. Sometimes people are addressed by their middle name, or in the case of our colleague Pete, a name completely unrelated to his formal name. In these scenarios and others, searching for people under multiple aliases is important and can take considerable time. Therefore, when the search team has more time, they can investigate the multitude of possible names in jurors’ online social media which increases the likelihood they can establish a “hit.”
Having more time with the list also allows multiple members of the search team to confirm the search results – which gives greater confidence that the person whose social networking profile appears in the search charts is the juror in the venire. This approach also allows us to more confidently say a juror doesn’t have a strong online presence if no results for his or her name appear after multiple searches.
Another advantage to getting the jury list early is that the jury research team has time to organize its findings into easily digestible bits of important information for the trial team, versus a barrage of on-the-go information that can be difficult to assimilate with limited time. It is certainly easier to flip through a panel’s profiles when they are outlined in one easy-to-read chart prepared in advance.
Although receiving the jury list in advance is ideal, internet searches of jurors can be done “on the fly” during the morning of jury selection. While searchers don’t have time to dive deeply into jurors’ profiles, a lot of valuable information about their personal preferences and opinions can be gathered to supplement limited information gleaned from voir dire. While working recently on a case for a car manufacturer, for example, our social networking team was able to uncover several jurors who had posted pictures of their cars, or of cars they admired, to their social media accounts. As was the case in this litigation, this information can be critical when considering whether or not jurors should be a strike for the defense.
The Importance of Just Asking for the Jury List
When dealing with a case venued in Federal court, we hear all the time that the court won’t provide a jury list earlier than the morning of jury selection. While this can be true, we have had success obtaining the list earlier if an attorney just asks the judge’s clerk (Federal District Court of Kansas and Delaware Federal District Court to name two). (Obviously, building a relationship with the judge’s clerk is invaluable in many ways in addition to possibly receiving the jury list earlier.) Receiving the jury list on Friday before a trial starts on Monday, or even the day before the trial is set to start, is invaluable to learning as much as possible about each juror’s online footprint and attitudes.
How Social Networking Searches Can Impact Voir Dire During Jury Selection
Good social networking searches are the result of good teamwork between the social networking search team, the jury consultant assisting with jury selection and the trial team. The more time the search team has, the more time the analysis team has to highlight relevant information and create follow-up questions for the jurors regarding specific attitudes that may need to be uncovered in voir dire. Because no one wants to admit to a room full of jurors that they’ve conducted online investigations about each of them, it is important to figure out avenues for revealing the same information in the courtroom during voir dire. One time, an internet search for a juror revealed a baby registry, which told us this juror had a son just two months before. Armed with this (and other information which revealed this person would have been a poor juror for us), we were able to ask questions of this juror so she could be dismissed for hardship. This strategy allowed us to avoid the risk of having to later burn a peremptory strike on her and save that strike for a more “dangerous” juror for whom we could not secure a cause strike.
How Social Networking Searches Help to Know What’s Important
Whenever the judge releases the venire list, conducting online research of jurors is important to revealing potentially unknown information about the jurors in a panel. Although the earlier the better, any time that can be dedicated to these searches is valuable, as any information is better than no information. Knowing how much time the social networking search team will have to conduct its investigation will help to develop a pre-trial strategy for gathering and communicating its findings to the trial team – and most importantly to the people determining the jury selection strikes.
By: Elizabeth Babbitt, M.A. – Consultant
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