Sometimes, as we pick a jury, we run across someone on the panel who has heard about our case. This happened to me with several jurors in my last trial. The jurors who had heard about the incident were reluctant to really say everything they remembered hearing, but I really had the feeling that they identified with whichever group they heard the story from (ie people who heard about the story from the defendant’s family and friends seemed to believe his story and vice versa).
The court played it safe in my trial and struck anyone who knew any specific information about the case – and according to this new study about gossip, it was the right thing to do.
The study essentially indicates that preconceived notions about someone will affect the way one deals with that person, even if the evidence shows that the preconceived idea was incorrect. I think this could have some ramifications for juries. Maybe a juror will stick to the story he/she heard, even after hearing evidence at trial that may lead to another conclusion.
This may spread even beyond what jurors heard about particular cases. Maybe jurors who hear that a particular attorney is a total bastard won’t come around even after a week of trial shows that the attorney is a genuinely nice guy. Maybe jurors who believe that medical malpractice lawsuits cause nothing but trouble won’t be able to come around even after hearing evidence of a doctor who made a huge mistake that cost someone dearly. The possibilities are endless.
You can’t always strike everyone you want to – but when you’re challenging potential jurors, keep this study in mind.
(Howard Zimmerle is a personal injury lawyer in Rock Island, Illinois)