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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5 Actors Who Could Play the Next Batman

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by Natalie Zamora

Ben Affleck's casting as the Caped Crusader wasn't exactly met with a lot of excitement. While many DC fans were (and still are) happy with the casting, many definitely weren't, and even took it upon themselves to think of who could replace him. Now, with Affleck's role in Matt Reeves's upcoming The Batman completely unknown, it's worth looking at who has been actually rumored to take his place.

5. JAKE GYLLENHAAL

Jake Gyllenhaal attends the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival - 'The Sisters Brothers' premiere at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 8, 2018
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

As early as November 2017, Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal has been rumored to be playing the next Batman. Reportedly, Gyllenhaal had a meeting with Matt Reeves, something reporter Rob Keyes tweeted out at the time. When asked about the possibility, the actor shot it down, saying, "Wow, that’s a very difficult question. The answer to that question is no."

4. RYAN GOSLING

Ryan Gosling attends the 'First Man' press conference during 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 11, 2018
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

Another acclaimed actor, Academy Award nominee Ryan Gosling has also been rumored to take on the role of Bruce Wayne for some time. When recently asked at the Toronto International Film Festival if he would consider, Gosling simply said, "I don't know," before joking that if his First Man and La La Land director Damien Chazelle made it, he'd be in.

3. JOSH BROLIN

Josh Brolin attends the 'Sicario Day Of The Soldado' Photo Call at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images

Although Josh Brolin now plays two major Marvel characters, Cable and Thanos, he once confirmed he was in the running for Ben Affleck's role in 2016. Ultimately, Brolin backed out after he had disagreements with Zack Snyder on how the character should be played. Ever since Affleck's departure from directing The Batman, Brolin has been rumored to take the role.

2. MATTHEW GOODE

Actor Matthew Goode attends the 'The Imitation Game' New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater in 2014
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images for The Weinstein Company

Like Brolin, Matthew Goode was also one of the actors in the running to play Batman before Ben Affleck was cast. He was also reportedly considered for the roles of both Superman and Lex Luthor. Clearly, Goode would be welcomed into the DCEU. Now would be the perfect time.

1. JON HAMM

Jon Hamm attends the Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures And New Line Cinema's 'Tag' at Regency Village Theatre on June 7, 2018 in Westwood, California
Jerritt Clark, Getty Images

Ever since Jon Hamm played the dark and brooding role of Don Draper on Mad Men, fans have been rallying for him to play Batman. Though rumors have been circulating for years, Hamm just recently revealed that he has never had a conversation about the possibility. However, he did say he would be interested, if the script was good.

13 Secrets of Obituary Writers

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When Chicago Sun-Times obituary writer Maureen O’Donnell sits down to assess the lives of the recently departed, she feels less like a journalist and more like a historian. “I sometimes feel like I’m a frustrated history teacher,” she tells Mental Floss. “I get to teach a lesson every day and share it with readers.”

Unlike death notices, which only recite basic facts about the deceased, or funeral eulogies, which offer impassioned remembrances from loved ones, obituaries are a written memorial of a person’s legacy published for the world to see. Instead of dwelling on death they celebrate life, from the most recognizable celebrity to the quietest neighbor. They prove that almost everyone has a story to tell, and it’s sometimes only after a passing that people realize exactly how a person has left their mark in the world.

O’Donnell recalls a 2010 death notice for a Montana resident named Jim Cole, which mentioned his interest in photographing grizzly bears. Only after excavating details of his life did she realize Cole is the only person in North America to survive two grizzly attacks, 14 years apart. “They called him Grizzly Jim,” she says. “He wore an eyepatch because the second attack left him without an eye.” (Cole died of natural, not wildlife-related, causes at age 60.)

For more on how obituary writers approach the delicate art of human posterity, we asked several of them—including O’Donnell—to tell us about their work. Here’s what they had to say about a life spent covering death.

1. THEY LOOK FOR THE “ROSEBUD” MOMENT.

John Pope, who writes for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and assembled a book of obituaries, Getting Off at Elysian Fields, says that the goal of his work is to discover the “Rosebud” moment of an individual’s life. (That's a reference to the 1941 film Citizen Kane, and the desire of a reporter to define the mysterious dying word uttered by wealthy business magnate Kane.) “I look for ‘Rosebud,’ what makes a person tick,” he says. “When you talk to relatives, they talk about how he loved family, how he loved life, but you need to keep going and dig deeper.”

In 2009, Pope was tasked with profiling William Terral, a beloved pediatrician and gardening hobbyist. While the former was a noble career, Pope found his real jewel in the fact that Terral was once so struck by the bag of plasma separated from his blood during a medical procedure that he took it home, hung it from an IV hook, and pumped the liquid into the ground to see if it would help his garden grow. “His hibiscus flourished,” Pope says. So did his obituary.

2. IT’S ACTUALLY A PRETTY UPLIFTING JOB.

The stereotype of obituary writers toiling under the shadow of death, constantly aware of the fragile nature of life, isn’t exactly accurate. According to Pope, some family members have such fond memories of the deceased that talking to them can provoke a lot of amusement. “With Edward ‘Bud Rip’ Ripoll, a saloonkeeper, I had to ask his daughter to stop because I was laughing so hard and the stories were so good,” he says. (Ripoll was a Budweiser fan, and his urn was inscribed with the dedication, “This Bud’s for you.”)

O’Donnell describes it as “uplifting” work. “You’re frequently writing about people who made a difference in the world, large or small. The end of life is always sorrowful, but with someone like Mary White, who lived to be 93 and started the La Leche League [to normalize public breastfeeding] in her living room that now has tens of millions of members across the globe, that’s inspiring.”

3. THEY SOMETIMES KNOW WHEN DEATH IS IMMINENT.

Yellow flowers sit on top of a coffin
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Obituary writers have all kinds of information channels when it comes to mortality. Funeral homes may call to notify them; death notices in their paper or in another might provide a clue that a lesser-known person’s life is worth investigating further. Or they may simply be tipped off that the end is near. “For Barbara Harris, who was a founding member of Second City, one of my co-workers heard she was ill,” O’Donnell says. “I was able to prepare the obituary in advance, so when the time came, there was something comprehensive for readers available.”

Other times, that information can be a little off. When an editor was sure a prominent celebrity was going to die, Pope was told to prepare a lengthy obituary. “It was Paul Prudhomme, a chef who a line editor was convinced was going to launch to glory at any moment," Pope says. “He died 27 years later.”

4. THEY NEED TO BE READY FOR AN EMOTIONAL DELUGE.

Mike Bodine, who writes for the Sheet in Mammoth Lakes, California, says that an obituary writer will often be the first person a relative of the deceased has spoken to in depth about a loved one’s passing. “They can be really distraught,” he says. “It’s a matter of waiting it out while people just let their heart out. You can’t always use what they’re saying, but just listening and being patient can help open people up. It can feel a little bit like handling the body itself. You don’t want to push people.”

5. THEY CAN GET CAUGHT UP IN FAMILY SQUABBLES.

Phoning family members to collect memories of the recently deceased can be a sobering experience. Bodine says that children of the deceased can sometimes try to use an obituary to vent about personal vendettas. “When someone has passed and a lot of money and kids are involved, it can turn into animosity,” he says. “Someone will say a sibling is screwing them over on money. It’s just distortion you have to wade through.”

6. FAMILIES CAN GET UPSET AT THEM.

While an obituary writer’s job is to celebrate life, that doesn't mean they exclude the less-flattering components. When he was writing about a local politician, Pope discovered that he had once been to prison for misappropriating campaign funds. When he mentioned that in the obituary, the man’s daughter phoned in an uproar. “She asked why we were doing that. I told her it was because it was the truth.”

O’Donnell has had similar experiences. “Unfortunately, in Chicago, a lot of politicians have been investigated and convicted of corruption," she says. "It gets reported at the time it happened and readers would have known about it. It would be a disingenuous, fraud obituary if you didn’t include it.”

7. OTHER TIMES, PEOPLE LIE.

Family members may also omit certain facts. Because obituaries are perceived as the last word on many people, relatives and friends sometimes lean into the idea it should be a hagiography. “With [socialite] Mickey Easterling, no one was going to tell me her age,” Pope says. “I had to cite public records, which I’ve never had to do before.” On another occasion, the deceased’s loved ones refused to inform Pope that a suicide had occurred. He found out the truth months later, after listing the cause of death as “undetermined” in the obituary.

8. IT’S BETTER TO DIE ON CERTAIN DAYS THAN OTHERS.

A death certificate sits on top of a table
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If you want a well-read obituary, try to die on a Friday. According to Pope, people who expire that day of the week are more likely to be targeted for inclusion in the Sunday edition of the paper, which affords more space and more time for the obituary writer to do a thorough job. “Dying on a Friday will get you more play on a Sunday,” he says. Holidays are also ill-advised times to make an exit, as reporters with dedicated beats (politics, movies, sports) aren’t usually around to assist in reporting notable deaths in those fields, and readership is down.

While you'd think the dying and their associates would have more pressing issues, sometimes they prioritize that recognition: In 1936, King George V's physician injected the monarch with enough morphine and cocaine to hasten his death in time for the next morning's papers, rather than the less-desirable evening editions.

9. PEOPLE CAN BE A LITTLE NERVOUS AROUND THEM.

When an obituary writer becomes well-known in the community, their very presence can portend bad news. If Pope needs to phone someone for any reason other than someone’s passing, he’ll sometimes begin the call by saying, “It’s Pope. No one died.”

That slight unease can work both ways. Once, Pope walked into a social gathering where three people whose obituaries he had already written and banked for future use were standing. “I just kind of stopped,” he says.

10. THEY GET INVITED TO FUNERALS.

Obituaries are often treasured by families who appreciate how a writer has summarized and memorialized the deceased. Sometimes, that gratitude can extend to invitations to come to the funeral. “That happens with some frequency,” O’Donnell says. “I went to the services for a rock concert roadie, who I didn’t know, but he worked a lot of rock concerts I went to the in 1970s. I met a lot of people there who went to the same concerts.”

Other times, they’ll be dispatched to cover the funeral for the purposes of writing a piece. “I went to Al Copeland’s funeral, the founder of Popeyes Chicken,” Pope says. “There were 24 white Bentleys, a horse-drawn hearse, and a band playing ‘My Way.’” The solemn music continued until the procession reached the grave, at which point they broke into “Love That Chicken From Popeyes.”

11. CERTAIN PHRASES CAN ANNOY THEM.

Work the death beat long enough and certain recurring phrases begin to wear on a writer’s patience. Pope dislikes using the term the late to precede a decedent’s name. “What’s the point?” he says. “Can we get over that?” He also dislikes funeral service because “it’s redundant,” and avoids using “natural causes” as the reason for a death whenever possible, because it's non-specific. "Always get the cause of death," he says.

12. SOME PEOPLE USE OBITS TO TAKE REVENGE.

A highlighter is run over the word 'revenge'
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O’Donnell says she's struck by the more contemporary practice of “revenge” obituaries, which are penned by family members and tend to criticize their departed relative for allegations relating to abuse or other personal reasons that have prompted a vendetta. Pope recalls a time when a widow sent in a death notice to his paper claiming her late husband’s law firm had sent him to an early grave. “We spent a day with lawyers de-fanging it,” he says.

13. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN AWARDS SHOW CALLED “THE GRIMMYS.”

Acting as a kind of unofficial trade organization, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers invites devotees of the dead to exchange information on their work and attend functions like ObitCon. Each year, awards—known as the Grimmys—are awarded for best long- and short-form obituaries, as well as for lifetime achievement. The trophy resembles a tombstone. “I was nominated last year,” Pope says.

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