Russell Hebets Sept. 23, 2011

Michael Jackson’s physician, will begin the first phase of his trial. Jury selection is a portion of a trial that is used to exclude any potential jurors who will have a bias in a particular case. In any criminal case that goes to trial jury selection is one of the most important factors in the case.

In general jury selection should center around two things. First, the jurors should be screened for a specific bias, such as racism, sexism, or a personal connection with the case. Second, the attorneys should try to determine if the jury is willing to accept a defense’s or prosecution’s case, if they can prove the facts of that case. For example, some jurors may not think self defense is ever a legitimate as a defense. In the case of Dr. Conrad Murray jury selection is even more complicated and high stakes than in most cases.

For Dr. Murray’s trial a special process was created to proceed with jury selection as this excellent article by Harriet Ryan of the Los Angeles Times explains. A special questionnaire was given to the jury that was far more extensive than the normal questionnaire. Because of this extensive pre-screening the lawyers will get less time to question each juror—only a minute. While the extensive questionnaire obviously contains a lot of valuable information one problem with this method of selection is that a written exam is never as clear as oral questioning. With the written exam format and strict time limits lawyers will have very little time to follow up with key questions, and for most jurors they may only be able to follow up with a line of questioning about one particular item in the survey.

The second major difficulty in a case like Dr. Murray’s is that the high profile nature of the case might encourage some jurors to do whatever they can to get on the jury. The concern here is that people may want to profit from being on the Murray jury. Others may be devout fans of Michael Jackson who wish to be on the jury so that they can see justice served. The legal team has several options to try and screen for these types of jurors. New tools like Twitter and Facebook can allow them to gather more genuine information about the jurors.

Jury selection is always a difficult task and for the lawyers in Dr. Murray’s case they could not have asked for a more difficult jury selection scenario.