Jewish World Review April 5, 2004 / 14 Nissan 5764
Can 'Runaway Jury' be real?
So-called "stealth jurors" could be sabotaging the justice system
In the movie "Runaway Jury," John Cusack's character made it his mission to be placed on a jury to manipulate the verdict. Now, it seems that the plotline is not pure Hollywood fantasy.
Recently, there have been allegations that this is actually happening in real courtrooms. They've been nicknamed "stealth jurors," jurors who blatantly lie to get on cases so they can serve their own form of justice.
In the Scott Peterson case, defense attorney Mark Geragos contended that one of the prospective jurors tried to do just that. During questioning, Geragos confronted the woman saying he has information that the retired municipal worker told a bus full of senior citizens on their way to Reno that Scott was "guilty as hell" and he was "going to get what's due to him." She previously said that she had no preconceived notions about the case.
Martha Stewart's attorneys are now asking for a new trial after they say a juror lied about his criminal history on his jury questionnaire, claiming that the juror had his own ax to grind with Martha Stewart.
Today, the Tyco case ended in a mistrial. Juror No. 4, a woman who had nearly brought the case to a mistrial last week, had allegedly received a threatening or coercive letter within the past 24 hours. Earlier last week, the same juror was believed to have made an 'OK' sign to the defendants. The media has since scrutinized her and have wondered whether she might have had an agenda of her own.
With a slew of high-profile trials like Kobe Bryant's and Michael Jackson's -and others to come - are these stealth jurors really that big a problem?
Phillip Anthony, a jury consultant with the prominent firm DecisionQuest says that this is a real issue in our court system. According to their own study of 1,000 people surveyed, 25 percent said they can envision a situation where they would want to serve on a jury. About 14 percent have said that they are willing to hide information about themselves to get on a jury.
DecisionQuest also surveyed 163 lawyers: 60 percent of them believed that there are more stealth jurors, and 66 percent say that this phenomenon has increased over the past 5 years. (DecisionQuest specializes in jury research, trial consulting and jury selection.)
"The concept of a stealth juror is something we first saw occurring maybe three or four years ago," says Anthony. "It came right on the heels of the O.J. Simpson case, which in many ways was a watershed event for the legal system. It was also a watershed event in the context of jury behavior. It was really the first time in American history during which the jury-eligible American population could sit and watch an entire trial. The lightbulb went on for a lot of folks that if they ended up being selected as a juror, it could be an opportunity to engage in some form of social engineering."
Anthony recounts a recent case his firm handled. "A practicing lawyer was really eager to be on the jury. He really wanted to serve, and it didn't make a lot of sense since he was a busy fellow. It later turned out that he did have an ulterior motive. He was interested in becoming a consultant in this case, for the plaintiff."
Anthony adds however, that these so-called stealth jurors are motivated by more personal reasons. "Usually, they've experienced something personally that causes them to want to put forward their agenda."
'Washington Post' federal court reporter Jerry Markon says he's seen the same trend. "I wrote about a case a couple of years ago which was a tobacco trial and it was not one of the more high-profile tobacco trials. A man whose wife had died of cancer was suing the tobacco industry. One of the jurors lied and didn't reveal that he himself had cancer... and that his mother had died of cancer as well," he says.
"I was always under the belief or the perception that most people don't want to be on a jury," says Markon. "It's sort of inherently counterintuitive to want to be on a jury. But a quarter of the population does, and 14 percent might hide information? I think that says a lot."
So what can lawyers do to prevent "stealth jurors"?
"The reality is that all you can do as a trial lawyer is look for inconsistencies," says Anthony. Jury questionnaires, which some courts allow, can help. "If you have a questionnaire, look for inconsistencies. Look for signs of things that just don't make sense."
He added however, that "Runaway Jury" is not that realistic. "Most people do try to do a good job serving as jurors. They are trying to perform their civic jury duty."
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington
and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Dan Abrams anchors The Abrams Report, Monday through Friday from 9-10 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. He also covers legal stories for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, Today and Dateline NBC. To visit his website, click here. Comment by clicking here.
04/02/04: Judge on trial for drunk driving will likely remain on the bench even if convicted
03/26/04: Those trying to place blame for 9/11 are taking political cheap shots
03/18/04: Palestinian terrorists are using children where's the outrage?
03/15/04: Let's fight the common enemy
03/12/04: Lawsuits against fast food companies are ridiculous
03/09/04: In Martha case, justice was served, but it wasn't exactly fair
03/05/04: Martha's celebrity friends visit the courtroom: Were they trying to send a message to the jurors?
03/03/04: Bravo to the Israeli Supreme Court
03/02/04: When prosecutors overcharge: Seeing what will stick is not the way to go
02/27/04: Our warped perception of TV: Are you willing to watch a televised execution?
02/24/04: Why term limits for district attorneys make no sense and why voters should have more confidence in themselves to vote out someone they don't like
02/23/04: Why Martha Stewart shouldn't testify
02/17/04: We need to get over O.J.
02/13/04: Why safety and security have to take precedence over certain environmental concerns
02/02/04: Not the celebrity circus: Why all high profile trials are not created equal
01/27/04: To Kobe and Michael: Playing the race card would be a mistake
01/26/04: Closed jury selection at the Martha Stewart trial makes sense
01/24/04: Being more frugal with the death penalty: Getting it right, more important than getting it often
01/15/04: Stupid warning labels: The death of common sense and responsibility
01/14/04: Because 9/11 did change America: New government proposal on airline screening seems fair
01/13/04: Jury of one's peers: Not to be taken literally
01/09/04: When the truth hurts, lawyers try to close proceedings
01/08/04: Lies, damn lies and those that don't seem to matter
01/07/04: Convicted child murderer's mommy should start accepting some responsibility for son's fate
12/17/03: It's time to stop assuming that the Iraqi people can't fairly try Saddam Hussein
12/15/03: Why the case of 16-year-old convicted murderer highlights the problem with some defense attorneys, to whom the truth is sometimes beside the point
12/11/03: Tweaking Miranda
12/10/03: Why the accused in "Central Park jogger" case aren't falsely accused angels
12/08/03: Lawyers blaming the media
11/20/03: Why it's time to throw out the insanity defense, as we know it
11/14/03: What happens when jurors leave their common sense at the door?
11/13/03: Are the Brits finally learning that the risks of suppressing or banning speech are greater than allowing it and then punishing the violators?
11/12/03: Fairer fare
11/06/03: Why so-called no-nonsense judges sometimes put up with a lot of nonsense
10/23/03: Why the presumption of innocence does not and should not exist outside a courtroom
10/22/03: College kid (in)security maven deserves country's gratitude
10/21/03: If you don't like it, you can drive
10/17/03: Blurring the line in the Kobe Bryant case between what is significant and what is just salacious
10/16/03: Why prosecutors and the judge shouldn't let Kobe's lawyer hijack the preliminary hearing
10/15/03: False bravado from the mayor of New York
10/13/03: The media circus myth
10/10/03: Angry electorate?
10/07/03: Why a recent ruling in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker is no cause for concern
10/02/03: Children, guns and political fear
10/01/03: Why you should hold off on thanking politicians for passing and signing the national do-not-call list
09/30/03: A star Ohio State running back is suing to become eligible for the NFL draft
09/25/03: The effort by some law schools to keep military recruiters off their campuses
09/23/03: What a hurricane can teach us about dealing with terrorism
09/22/03: Why I'm tired of criminal defense attorneys in particular in high profile cases complaining about media leaks
09/18/03: How budget cuts nationwide are starving many of the state courts and allowing some criminals to go free
09/17/03: Charging wounded soldiers for food!?
09/16/03: al Qaeda has finally found a media home
09/15/03: Journalists who exposed security threat, now being punished?
08/14/03: The California student council blue light special election
08/13/03: Why the Transportation Security Administration needs to start getting it's priorities straight
08/12/03: Let local U.S. attorneys do their jobs
08/07/03: Why itís time to release the documents surrounding Kobe Bryantís arrest
08/06/03: Terror warnings do serve a purpose
08/03/03: How even the most pro-Saudi polls still make many of the Saudi people seem like enemies of America
08/01/03: Why is the outgoing president of one of the most influential legal organizations advising attorneys not to represent certain clients?
07/31/03: Class action lawyers get huge fees while their clients get squat
07/30/03: Why it makes no sense to keep the public and the victims in the dark about a key section of the 9/11 report from Congress
03/27/03: Homeland Security update
03/20/03: Did I misunderstand the French?
03/18/03: No longer shielded from reality
03/17/03: Franco-phobic nonsense sweeping the nation
03/14/03: An exception to my "be extra tough on terrorists" rule
03/13/03: Whiner Assad still doesn't get it
03/11/03: What a new deadline for Iraq should really mean
03/10/03: The dishonest arguments against war with Iraq
03/07/03: On Iraq, the administration seems undeterred. It seems, there is no other way out
03/05/03: The so-called human shields in Iraq, now coming back from Fantasyland
03/04/03: Michigan backing off of mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes
03/03/03: Why military tribunals could be the best optione of defining them as military
02/28/03: Is prez signaling a return to the American Bar Association ratings for prospective judicial candidates?
02/26/03: And now the "don't-blame-me" attitude is extending to mass deaths
02/10/03: Avoid politicizing the shuttle disaster
01/29/03: A litany of violations? That Saddam has not disarmed is already a given
01/23/03: Why the feds should not give up on the prosecution of alleged 20th hijacker in a federal court
01/22/03: What was Powell thinking?
01/21/03: Human rights groups still don't get it when it comes to the new war on terror
01/16/03: Yet another reason why we shouldn't trust the Saudis
01/13/03: Why the administration should share intelligence with U.N. inspectors
01/10/03: From a special punishment to a garden variety one
01/08/03: Should victims of a terror attack sue the city?
01/06/03: The "Jackpot Jury" syndrome continues
12/30/02: It's the holidays, let me order my wine!
12/20/02: The judge who dropped the ball in the battle over who owns Barry Bonds' 73rd home run ball, valued at nearly $2 million
12/19/02: Requiring Pakistani and Saudi male visitors to register with the INS
12/18/02: Why many seem to misunderstand Iraq's international obligations
12/17/02: Shouldn't there be a standard for what would trigger a war with Iraq?
12/13/02: Judge Rose by what he did on the field
12/12/02: Manhattan prosecutors making a mistake in the Central Park jogger case
12/11/02: Why our government refuses to fully cooperate in the prosecution of a possible 9/11 conspirator
12/10/02: Hezbollah, not a terrorist organization, says Canada
12/09/02: The world's cynical view of America
12/04/02: Why we need to stop electing judges
11/27/02: Why men should be able to sue women who lie about who's the daddy
11/26/02: Training lawyers to be touchy-feely
11/25/02: The story of a real American hero
11/22/02: In Illinois, academics lawyers, judges hurting their pro-life cause
11/15/02: A close reading of Iraq's letter of acceptance makes it clear that Saddam will almost certainly refuse to live up to its terms
11/14/02: Al Jazeera: A state-sponsored mouth-piece
11/13/02: Should Moussaoui be sent to a military tribunal?
11/12/02: Should human rights activists complain about the detainees' treatment?
© 2002, MSNBC