Researching Potential Jurors During Voir Dire
In many, if not most, jurisdictions, the list of potential jurors is made available to the parties at some point before the day jury selection begins. As a trial consultant, I am often called upon to conduct research on potential jurors before trial. This research consists of general Internet searches and utilizing sources like social media (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram), news media, publicly available databases (e.g., political contributions, parties in civil lawsuits, housing values, and other public records, etc.), and any custom databases developed specifically for the litigation. Discussions of these activities can be found in chapter 8, “Jurors and the Internet,” of my book Mastering Voir Dire and Jury Selection.
However, what happens when you don’t get the jury list until the day of trial? Do you give up using information outside of what you can gather through voir dire? Obviously, the information uncovered during voir dire questioning is of primary importance. But outside information can be extremely valuable also. To further complicate the picture, let’s add an information collection target of two hours from the start of voir dire for a venire of 31 potential jurors. Well, a colleague and I recently faced this situation. What we did may get you thinking creatively also.
Two hours, 31 potential jurors, . . . Go!
To accomplish this difficult task, we set up two general teams. Team One would be onsite in the courthouse. This team was responsible for inputting the jurors’ names and other information from the jury list into a document program that allowed for the sharing of the document among many users. In essence, this document gave us the ability to simultaneously add/share information from all team members in real time. The document was available to the trial team during voir dire and jury selection so that they could view the evolving document from their laptops in court. The consultant head of Team One would interface the information with information gathered during voir dire.
Team Two—more than 100 miles away—led by another trial consultant, utilized researchers assigned to gather/search through (a) Google; (b) social media; (c) LinkedIn and company websites; (d) public records; (d) political party registration; (e) political contributions; (f) housing data; and (g) custom databases developed for the litigation. As information was uncovered, the researchers added it to the document, with the results instantly becoming visible to all members of the research and trial teams.
We took several steps to maximize the efficiency of our efforts at trial. First, all technology and documents were tested (and often retested) before trial. Second, researchers went through dry runs of the “game day” experience to uncover flaws in the methodology and to develop improvements in our approaches (e.g., trying different search strategies). Third, custom databases were developed to reduce, where possible, online searches of certain types of information. While business Internet access is generally reliable, Internet traffic can overload websites, websites can be taken offline for upgrades and fixes, and Internet service can be compromised without advance notice. Finally, given that the list of jurors was in the order of their appearance for questioning, we developed a search strategy that allowed for completion of the data gathering for the initial jurors first, thus always staying ahead of the voir dire questioning process.
Overall, our experience was a positive one. We were able to provide the information gathered within the target window. For example, 65% of potential jurors had an identifiable presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter with a number of jurors registering likes to significant political and/or social figures or organizations. In addition, several jurors had contributed thousands of dollars to Democratic or Republican candidates, with several more jurors making smaller contributions. Most importantly, all the information was gathered and distributed before voir dire was concluded and strikes were exercised.
There were several major takeaways from this experience. First, such an undertaking can be accomplished within a limited time window. Second, this approach would be highly desirable even when time constraints were not so Draconian. Third, having a substantial research team offsite—with onsite interface—can minimize the team footprint at trial while still maximizing capabilities under time-tight—and not so tight—trial conditions. And, of course, ideas for future developments (and posts) always arise from such (ad)ventures. Try it sometime, and you will see what I mean.