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9 Things Lawyers Look for When Picking a Jury

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At some point in your adult life, chances are good you’ll be called to serve jury duty. But the odds that you’ll actually sit on a trial are much lower. What, exactly, makes an ideal juror? What are lawyers on both sides of a case looking for in a lineup of random people? The answer, of course, depends on the case itself. But there are a few general traits attorneys take into consideration when trying to decide whether you’d help or hurt their argument. 

Attorneys don’t get to pick their jurors. Instead, using a mixture of intense questioning, keen observation, and stereotyping, they get to eliminate people they think would hurt their case. “It’s not like a baseball team where you can choose your team members,” says Jeffrey Frederick, Director of Jury Research Services at the National Legal Research Group and author of Mastering Voir Dire and Jury Selection. “It’s not who I want, it’s who I don’t want. What we try to do is think of what backgrounds, life experiences, cognitive styles, opinions, and values jurors might have that would make them less receptive to our case.” Clues like demographics and personality can improve a lawyer’s chance of predicting a juror’s stance on a verdict by up to 15 percent. Here are a few things lawyers take into consideration when trying to figure you out. 

1. YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

Attorneys pay close attention to any relationships that might color your opinions. For example, “if it’s a medical malpractice case and there’s a woman and all of her friends are nurses, that might bias her a little bit,” says Matthew Ferrara, Ph.D, a trial consultant and forensic psychologist. And if you have friends or family in law enforcement, that’s a big red flag. “In a criminal case, relationship to someone in law enforcement is paramount,” Ferrara says. “People who are probation officers, police officers, jailers or are related to the same type of profession would be probably viewed as biased toward the prosecution.”

2. YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE LAW

Even if you aren’t directly related to a police officer or member of the judicial system, you can still have opinions about law enforcement rooted in your own personal experiences. Perhaps you feel you were unfairly ticketed for speeding, or you’ve been the victim of police profiling. This is all very important, because research shows that when juries deliberate, they spend 50 percent of their time talking about their own personal experiences as a way of judging the case. To sniff out bias, lawyers will ask jurors if they agree with statements like, “If someone is charged, they’re probably guilty,” or “Laws do more to protect the rights of criminal defendants and too little for victims and families,” or “Would you believe the testimony of a police officer based solely on his position as an officer?” 

The defense is going to look for people who are more open-minded about the law, and don’t always believe that it makes the right call. The plaintiff attorney or prosecutor will generally look for people more inclined to trust authority. 

One quick way to get dismissed from a jury, according to Tom King, a former Deputy Prosecutor in Indiana, is to voice strong opinions about the legal system: “Say, ‘I’ve read about these criminal prosecutions where the police and the prosecutors made up evidence and I just don’t think it’s a fair system.’” 

3. YOUR INTERNET FOOTPRINT

Your public activity on various social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are fair game. Have you been sharing or commenting on any relevant news articles? Did you recently write an opinionated Letter To The Editor? Do you belong to a particular group on Facebook? All of that could show a sign of bias. “In some cases it turns out political party affiliation is relevant and if that’s the case, then you start looking at political websites, Facebook pages, campaign contributions, all kinds of things that might indicate a political orientation,” Frederick says. 

4. YOUR RELIGION

One common question presented to jurors is, “Are there any religious beliefs that prevent you from passing judgment on another person?” Frederick says this is to weed out people whose faith might impede their ability to view a case objectively. 

5. YOUR ATTITUDE

If you come into jury duty with an air of positivity, you increase your chances of staying on as a juror. “If they’re ticked off, I don’t wanna take that chance because that could be transferred to my case,” says King. Indeed, research shows that if you don’t vibe well with an attorney, you’re more likely to decide against their argument. “One attorney told me, 'If I can tell they don’t like me, I get rid of them,’” King says. 

6. YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS (Or lack thereof)

Leaders, contrarians, and independent thinkers can be pivotal in a verdict. These people have the potential to rally the rest of the group behind a unanimous decision, which is great for the plaintiff or the prosecutor. But they also won’t be afraid to disagree with everyone else, resulting in a hung jury, which is great for the defense. “With the prosecution, you wanna see a group that can work together,” Frederick says. “As the defense you are willing to have people on there who will have a problem working together.” Lawyers want to identify the leaders quickly and decide if they’ll work for or against their case. “If you’re the leader and they don’t think you’re on their side, they’ll eliminate you immediately,” Ferrara says. Attorneys will look for leadership positions in your history, and take note of how assertive you are during the questioning process. “Do they tend to speak up in a group or not?” asks Frederick. “I’ve heard people correct us attorneys, and you go, ‘that’s pretty assertive.’”

7. YOUR CLOTHES

While clothing alone usually isn’t enough to get you dismissed, lawyers can make superficial judgments about your character based on your wardrobe. This even includes your shoes. According to the Synchronics Group Trial Consultants, a “nurturing, open, receptive and generous person” will likely wear casual shoes “with plenty of room for the toes, because these people don't want to be hemmed in. No pointy tips. The heels will be low, because open people want to be able to move around easily. No stilettos. Sandals, sports and walking shoes are more likely to fit this person's style than compact, tight dress shoes.” On the contrary, the Synchronics Group says, uptight and cautious jurors will wear more formal and well-maintained shoes. Generally, “if you wanna make it on a jury,” says Ferrara, “then dress conservatively and in an non-flashy manor.” 

8. YOUR HAIR

Open and receptive jurors, according to the Synchronics Group Trial Consultants, will have hair that is “casual and naturally flowing, rather than highly styled or gelled or plastered to the head … Beards and mustaches will be natural looking, rather than designed and sculpted.” The old adage says you can’t judge a book by its cover, but attorneys will certainly try. 

9. YOUR BODY LANGUAGE

Non-verbal behavior can say a lot about what you’re thinking. “We’re not mind readers,” says Frederick, “but you can see behaviors indicating they are really not receptive to you at all, or they’re very receptive to you, and you pay attention to that.” For example, according to the Synchronics Group Trial Consultants, open and receptive people “will be sitting in open postures, i.e., with their hands on the chair arm instead of folded across their stomach.” Lawyers will observe jurors’ faces for telling reactions while the judge reads the charges aloud. Some will “look over at the defense like they have daggers in their eyes,” Frederick says. “Or they may look over somewhat sympathetic.” 

According to Trial Consulting Firm DecisionQuest, “Non-verbal behavior is only one clue as to how someone might be feeling at any given moment, not an indicator of basic attitudes or biases.” Like clothing choice and hairstyle, body language is only part of the puzzle. Still, King says, “there were times when, as soon as the jury was seated and all the other people were gone, I would look up and I would just know.”

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

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Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

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2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

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Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

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3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

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4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

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Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

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5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

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Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

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6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

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8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

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Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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