by Laurie R. Kuslansky, Ph.D.
Expert Jury Consultant
A jury questionnaire is distributed to jurors when they arrive for service. More often than not, this is a highly contested document that all parties want to have a voice in crafting. Knowing what to ask for without overreaching is critical since a judge may revert to a default jury questionnaire.
As in any investigation, answers are only as good as the questions. Accordingly, a jury questionnaire should avoid “garbage in/garbage out” like the plague. I have seen far more bad questions than good ones on jury questionnaires. The following is a guide to help avoid questionnaires that ask a lot, but answer little by way of useful information and helpful results.
A good jury questionnaire …
- Avoids questions that reveal your good jurors.Perhaps the most frequent mistake is asking questions to reveal friends rather than enemies. For example, why should a civil defendant ask, “Do you think there are too many frivolous lawsuits?” or “Do you agree there should be a cap on damages?” If someone agrees, you have just given your opponent a gift. You’ve done their job for them and made it easy to target your good jurors for follow-up questions or a strike, whether for cause or a peremptory.
Instead, target enemies! For example, better defense questions leave more room to reveal adverse opinions to your side, such as, “Do you believe that if a case gets to court, it must have merit?”
- Is based on data, not opinion or past experience alone.
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