Can Jurors Really Be Impartial?


Jurors are supposed to be neutral, looking at the evidence and applying the law. If you've been chosen for jury duty, you probably remember the lecture.

In reality, much more than just facts and law go into a juror's decision, even if they don't realize it. Jurors are human, after all.  It's the whole theory of Blink, of which I've become a big fan.

One example is making snap judgment about a defendant. It's difficult to avoid. I'll admit it happened to me when I was called for jury duty recently. The moment the defendant walks into the courtroom, you can't help but look at them and form an opinion on their guilt or innocence.  This guy had tattoos on his face, crazy hair and just a mean look about him.  Fair or not it made a bad first impression.

Even the judge probably does this, although after seeing hundreds of defendants I believe you can learn to be impartial. I just don't think it's something that comes naturally.

So the justice system isn't fair. No surprise there. But it should be a lesson for defendants, and really anyone appearing in court. First impressions really do matter.

It's also a lesson for attorneys. I believe it's their job to do everything they can to help their client avoid a negative first impression. The way you walk, talk and dress can make a difference. You should do everything you can to appear respectful. If you dress too casually, or sloppily, it's going to look like you don't care. If you speak rudely, it's going to turn people off. If you appear too confident, or too emotional, it won't look good either.

 Perhaps it would be better if jurors never even saw the defendant, and even heard their testimony - and that of witnesses - spoken by actors. It would eliminate a lot of these variables. This has actually been suggested, but I'm not sure it's the right solution. While the danger of snap judgments does exist, it's also important to watch someone as they testify to know how sure they are of what they're saying, for example.

The bottom line is you don't want people to look at you and think you're guilty. Of course you can't completely control what other people are going to think, but why not give it your best shot.


Legal Tip Of The Day from St. Charles attorney Michael Clancy: If you can avoid a hospital in July, do it.  July is typically when new doctors go to work and as a result it is the deadliest month of the year from fixable errors like giving the wrong medication or doing the wrong medical procedure.



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  • As Craig Ferguson would say with regard to that jury, "ro ro." Also, wasn't Underdog suspected of drug abuse?

    Seriously, besides your apparent point to clean up the defendant, I have the feeling that judges go overboard to keep the jury unbiased. On the only jury on which I served, the defendant only showed up the first day, and we kept being called back for a week, until the judge said that the defendant had waived his right to be present and would be tried anyway. After he was convicted, the judge made a reference to a bench warrant being issued and said the guy was a repeater.

    If the point was whether an unbiased jury can be selected, I hark back to my comment to Dennis Byrne, in his post about the one juror in the Blago trial holding to her convictions for not convicting, that I would have peremptorily challenged her, because I would assume that a former state employee had to have clout to get her job, and thus would not find buying political favors objectionable.

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