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Runaway Juror

Can I use science to get out of jury duty?

I recently received a jury-duty letter, a notice that inspired me to learn everything I could about the science of jury selection. I could say this was because I'm naturally inquisitive, but the truth is I'm a bad citizen who wanted to get out of jury duty. I was hunting for tell-tale signs of bad jurors so I'd know exactly how to act during jury selection to ensure no one would want me meting out justice anytime soon.

I expected to find a wealth of information. After all, since the famous 1972 "Harrisburg Seven" trial, in which sociologists helped defense attorneys pick a jury that would go on to acquit their clients of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger, more and more legal teams have used social-science expertise during voir dire. Today the American Society of Trial Consultants boasts roughly 400 members, and "it's gotten to the point where if you don't hire one as a big attorney, you could be sued for incompetence," says Franklin Strier, law professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills and author of Reconstructing Justice: An Agenda for Trial Reform.

Thanks to the well-publicized roles of jury-selection experts in headline-grabbing cases such as the O.J. Simpson trial, the first Rodney King trial, and the $2.9 million "hot coffee" lawsuit against McDonald's, scientific jury stacking has also attracted public interest, not to mention trepidation. For many people, there's something disconcerting about an expert being able to calculate how they're going to decide a case based on their gender, background, and other characteristics.

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