Dr. Ken Manges Ph.D. | Forensic Psychologist | Expert Witness
In light of the upcoming webinar on Voir Dire, on the jury selection process, we wanted to bring your attention to some very recent high profile cases in which jury selection is underway.
Early last week, jury selection began in the James Holmes trial. Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in the July 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Anticipating the difficulty of selecting an impartial jury, the court summoned approximately 9,000 potential jurors for the case. As of January 27th, the court has already released 454 jurors from service for reasons such as language barriers, residency issues, or because they had a relative connected to the case. Because there is no factual dispute that Holmes is the killer, the 12 jurors selected will have the difficult job of determining whether Holmes was insane when he opened fire in the movie theater. If he is found guilty, Holmes could be sentenced to the death penalty. If Holmes is found NGRI (“Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity”), Holmes will be committed to a mental hospital. The jury selection part of the trial, just the process of choosing 12 jurors and 12 alternates, is anticipated to take months.
Jury selection is also currently underway in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev, the alleged “Boston Bomber,” is accused of killing three and injuring more than 260 people by placing twin bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The jury selection in Tsarnaev’s case has been riddled with issues and moving at a slow pace. Tsarnaev’s attorneys have continually asked Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. to move the trial from Boston due to the prejudice of potential jurors. Recently, however, Tsarnaev’s attorneys presented compelling evidence of this potential bias. Of the 1,373 prospective jurors who filled out screening questionnaires for jury selection, 68% already believed that Tsarnaev was guilty. Additionally, 69% of prospective jurors surveyed had a personal connection to the case. One juror responded on the questionnaire: “My friend was there and got blown up…additionally, her child was severely wounded and is still dealing with residual injuries.”
The jurors cannot be prejudiced, but they also cannot be opposed to the death penalty. Because Tsarnaev is charged with 17 crimes that carry the death penalty if he is convicted, any potential juror must be willing to sentence the defendant to death. If a Juror strongly opposes the death penalty, he or she cannot serve. The obvious potential for bias of jurors combined with the requirement that jurors not be opposed to the death penalty has resulted in an extremely tedious and drawn out jury selection process. The judge had planned to interview 200 potential jurors in the first five days, but at the conclusion of the five day period, only 74 potential jurors had been interviewed. Additionally, jury selection was delayed this week due to a blizzard in Boston.
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