February 7, 2012
The most important person in the courtroom Tuesday for the second day of jury selection in the George Huguely murder trial may have been the one sitting next to the attorney. Not the defendant, but the jury researcher.
The jury researcher is hired by defense attorneys to help read potential jurors by analyzing their body language and how they answer pre-drafted questions.
"It's becoming more common. It's expensive, so it's not an everyday usage, but in a lot of significant trials you can pretty much expect to see one," said Jeffrey Frederick, a jury research services director.
Potential jurors in the Huguely trial have been asked plenty of questions about college drinking and domestic violence. Frederick says that's no coincidence.
"It's obvious that domestic violence is going to be a key issue in this case. They would want to make sure there is nothing there - as the result of a past experience or their views on domestic violence - to keep jurors from being fair and impartial," he explained.
Jury researchers charge tens of thousands of dollars per case. They are typically used only by the defense in criminal cases but are commonly used by both sides in civil cases.
But do jury researchers guarantee a fair trial, or a manipulated jury like in John Grisham's best-selling novel The Runaway Jury, which was turned into a movie.
Frederick says the main goal of a jury researcher is to get inside the heads of potential jurors and determine the opinions and beliefs that will shape how they process information during a trial.
"We'll pay attention to how they answer the question, their demeanor and to the phrasing of the answer. We're paying attention to a lot and trying to distill it down to 'what does this person believe and how might that affect how they view the evidence,'" he said.
Proving that in a hazy world of guilt and innocence, perception defines reality.