The call to jury duty for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, a Black man, came with 14 pages of questions about race, policing, martial arts and podcasts.
Typically, such questionnaires include submissions from both the prosecution and the defense, with the final selections made by the judge. More than 300 questionnaires were returned. It is not clear whether the submitted answers will ever become public. But lawyers used these as a starting point when they began questioning potential jurors.
New York Times reporters reviewed the questionnaire before jury selection began to understand what lawyers for both sides would be looking for. Here is their analysis from before the process started.
What do you know about this case from media reports?
The goal is not to find someone who has never heard of George Floyd — anyone who makes that claim may be seen as incompetent or even dishonest. Still, lawyers will be trying to flag people who have been paying really close attention and may have already made up their minds on the case.
What podcasts do you regularly listen to?
The lawyers will be looking for ideological markers, and podcasts offer an almost infinite range of viewpoints from mainstream to niche. Generally speaking, the defense will be looking for political conservatives with pro-law-enforcement views.
Have you ever been restrained or put in a chokehold, for example, by law enforcement or during a self-defense class? ◻ Yes ◻ No If Yes, please explain:
This question gets at a tricky part of jury selection — do you want someone with a particular experience related to the case, or not? Sometimes it can be beneficial, but other times the juror may become overly focused on his or her own past.
The section above is crucial for both sides. The defense will be looking for people favorable to law enforcement, while the prosecution wants jurors who can be critical of the justice system. Strong views are likely to result in disqualification.
One concern is that this section, along with another section that asks whether jurors believe the criminal justice system is fair, could be used to eliminate jurors of color who express agreement with statements that are objectively true, for example, the Minneapolis police are more likely to use force against Black suspects than against white ones — at seven times the rate.
11. Do you have any martial arts training or experience?
Most likely, this is a question from the defense. That side will be looking for anyone with knowledge of restraint techniques and an understanding that using them can be safe and nonlethal.
There is one big rule in jury selection: Find out as much as you can about every candidate. There’s no single litmus test or demographic profile for who makes a good juror. Lawyers have to try to round out their portraits of each person, and will often be balancing plusses and minuses.
5. What city do you live in and how long have you lived there?
This question seems aimed at determining whether a potential juror has any personal experience with the unrest over the summer — whether, for instance, businesses in his or her community were damaged or looted.
The above section is another variation of the experience question. Doctors, police officers, forensic scientists — they may be better equipped to understand technical evidence, or they may substitute their own judgment for that of the expert witnesses giving testimony. It is unclear whether the lawyers want experts on the jury in this case.
Struggle with Drug Addiction?
This question underscores the role that drugs are likely to play in the case. We already know Mr. Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, and Mr. Chauvin’s defense is likely to argue that Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose. Therefore, the defense will probably pay special attention to this question, and perhaps seek to strike any juror who admits to having struggled with drugs.
14. Would any of the experiences you noted above make it difficult for you to be fair and impartial? If so, why?
The jury system depends almost entirely on the honesty of potential jurors. But often, all jurors have to do to satisfy the judge is to say that they can be impartial. If lawyers don’t believe them but cannot convince a judge to strike them for cause, they can still use one of their peremptory strikes — the prosecution has 9, the defense has 15.
3. Under our system of justice, defendants are presumed innocent of the criminal charges against them. Would you have any difficulty following this principle of law?
Conversely, jurors who don’t want to serve have an easy out: They can simply say they don’t agree with the fundamental principles of the system, or that they don’t think they can be fair.
11. Do you want to serve as a juror in this case? ◻ Yes ◻ No ◻ Not Sure
12. Why do you feel that way about serving as a juror in this case?
This is a trick question. Anyone who answers “yes” will be suspected of having an agenda, especially if the reason involves justice, race, policing or basically anything other than simply “I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury.”