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How Lawyers Pick Juries

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is led away in handcuffs after a jury found him guilty of all charges in his trial for murder in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 20, 2021.

The jury of 12 strangers who decided the fate of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were carefully selected by the prosecution and the defense.

Chauvin was found guilty on all charges in the murder of George Floyd. Prosecutors told the jury that Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, depriving him of oxygen.

Of the five men and seven women on the jury, six were white, four were Black and two were multiracial, according to court information. Even before the verdict was announced, Chicago jury consultant Alan Tuerkheimer felt the prosecution had a “good jury.”

"I look at the experiences of the jurors. I look at their backgrounds. I look at their occupations and a couple of things that they've said. And it seems like a pretty good jury for the prosecution," he said.

FILE -- Jury room at the New York State Supreme Court in New York.
FILE -- Jury room at the New York State Supreme Court in New York.

Choosing a jury is a delicate balance. The potential jurors in the Chauvin trial were required to fill out an extensive questionnaire about their views on subjects related to the case.

"You get rid of jurors who are on the fringes, sort of the extreme. The Chauvin team got rid of all the people that hate police, that hate him, that are really involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and don't think about alternative viewpoints," Tuerkheimer said.

"Same with the prosecution. But you know, they're still looking to get rid of people who are overly aligned with the police. Who love the police. Who have no tolerance for the Black Lives Matter movement. … The ones that are now on the jury seem like they're more middle of the road. Seem like they can be open-minded. Seem like they can consider all the evidence."

A person's occupation can influence whether they are seated on a jury. For example, one of the Chauvin jurors was a social worker.

"I think she even said in the questionnaire she was taught to be respectful," Tuerkheimer said. "I think someone like her, in a deliberation, would listen carefully and consider viewpoints and try to maybe get people to agree on certain things."

A chemist and a nurse were also on the jury, and they might have been more able to understand and explain medical testimony and evidence, Tuerkheimer said. While the banker on the panel might approach the evidence and deliberations in a more methodical and analytical way.

"Whatever your background is when you get back in the deliberation room, if there are issues that relate to what you do for your job, you're going to become an expert in that jury deliberation," he said. "And people are going to look to you to understand some of the information that was presented."

An empty jury box at the New York State Civil Supreme Court in New York City, September 11, 2020.
An empty jury box at the New York State Civil Supreme Court in New York City, September 11, 2020.

A key part of jury selection is trying to predict which potential jurors will emerge as leaders once the deliberations begin.

"Who's going to just kind of sit back and let other people talk? Who's going to take charge, and who's going to try to build consensus?" Tuerkheimer said.

"You can tell sometimes in voir dire (the process of determining a person's suitability to serve on the jury) who has a strong personality, and so the calculus in your mind — no matter what side you're working for — is, ‘OK, this juror is going to have influence in deliberation. I'd better make sure that they're not going to be against me, because it's a risk.’"

While each case is different, there is one type of potential juror that most experts aim to avoid, Tuerkheimer says, and that's the candidate who's a little too eager to sit on a jury or goes to great lengths to hide that enthusiasm.

"That's what you have to be careful of. It's called a stealth juror, where somebody, they try to fly under the radar. You just have to listen to what they say very carefully. See if they seem like they have an agenda. See if anybody's too eager to serve on a jury. That's a red flag," he said.