Jury selection is slated to begin on May/9. Judge Perry has taken the unusual but not unprecedented decision to actually seek the jury from somewhere other than the Orlando area. This decision was in response to the defense team’s request for a change of venue. The argument is a simple and economic one, moving the court infrastructure would be more costly than moving the jury.
Judge Perry is obviously very concerned that due to the press interest in this case that the potential jury pool not be tainted by press coverage. The defense and prosecution will be told the location later this week, this is to permit them time to position their resources.
Over the past 20 years there has been much written on the subject of jury selection. In the case of high profile situations the defense and prosecution may even retain the services of a jury selection expert. A person or organization that will build a profile of the perfect juror. Often they will go so fa as to canvas the geographic area to determine the make up and social values of the residents.
To some it appears to be ‘junk science’, or psychological mumbo jumbo. However you only have to look back at the first O.J. Simpson trial to seriously start to see the potential value in the practice.
In order to learn more I talked to a well known Criminal Defense Lawyer, John Contini. A man who has worked on many serious cases including the Death Penalty.
Simon: John, in general terms, how important is the jury selection process?
John Contini: The importance cannot be over emphasized. The case is lost or won by the jury selected. Both the prosecution and defense teams know this. They only have one chance to get it right. A mistake in the selection process will end in disaster for one side or the other.
Simon: The Casey Anthony story has captured the attention of the media. Some are saying that it will be bigger than the OJ case. You have 30 years of experience with high profile cases, is the media friend or foe?
JC: Both, and neither. In someways it it a courtship ritual. One that maybe more important to the defense side. Not talking to the press can turn them against you and your case. Talking too much though, can also come at a cost. It is a fine line that needs to to walked.
Simon: Again from your criminal defense background, how serious a problem is it going to be for the defense that they have little opportunity to research the ‘market’ where selection will occur?
JC: Well obviously it is potentially an issue. The ethnic, social, and economic differences in demographics has to be taken into account. However in this case I would assume that the judge has selected a location with a similar demographic to Orlando. Selecting a jury from an area with a huge demographic difference would be a problem for both the defense and prosecution.
Simon: OK this is a grossly unfair question, but one I cannot resist. Casey Anthony is a pretty young single mother accused of killing her two year old daughter. She has no prior convictions. What sort of juror might you seek out?
JC: Well no women! They will have a maternal instinct. The fact that that the victim is a two year old girl will have a huge impact.
Simon: Because the jury will be from a different county the judge has already made the decision that they will be sequestered for the duration of the trial. estimates put it at 8 weeks, I think it could go way longer. Does this modify the jury selection strategy? A locked up juror is a grumpy juror.
JC: Yes, that is a good question. But actually it works in favor of the defense. The juror knows that it is the the prosecution, AKA the government forcing the imprisonment rather than the defense. The longer it drags on, the bigger the the problem that the prosecution has. Sequestration is a huge problem.
Simon: Judge Perry tends to rule with a bit of an iron fist. He has scheduled 5 days for jury selection, as I understand it 20 men and women need to be found, 12 Jurors and 8 alternates. He has agreed to an individual Voir Dire process, is it possible to do this in 5 days?
JC: Were it not for the severity of the situation I would laugh. A good example is Gilbert Fernandez, it took five weeks to seat the jury, and four weeks for the actual trial. There are many aspects to be considered in the Voir Dire process. To rush the process could have consequences.
One thing is clear, jury selection is an important aspect in a criminal trial. What transpires next week will be interesting
John Contini, a highly experienced, veteran criminal defense attorney, has successfully represented thousands of criminal defendants in Florida and throughout the United States over the pastÂ 23 years. Contini, a former Broward County (South Florida) felony trial prosecutor, has defended the criminally accused since 1983. His practice expanded in the last several years to include the areas of personal injury and wrongful death, but Contini is best known for his success in the area of criminal defense, including murder, drug cases, juvenile cases, white collar crimes, sex crimes, and federal criminal defense. He can be found online at JohnContini.com and Danger Road is available at better bookstores everywhere or from Amazon.