Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

3 Voir Dire Tips from Aurora Shooting Trial's 5 Jury Dismissals

Article Placeholder Image
By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 17, 2015 1:55 PM

We're 33 days into the trial of James Holmes for opening fire in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012 and the jurors are being dismissed left and right. Last week, three jurors were kicked after reading tweets about the case. Another was let go on Monday for failing to disclose potential bias during voir dire. She was joined by a fifth juror, removed today, again for potential bias.

After Judge Carlos Samour pulled together the largest jury pool in history, it looks like a few mistakes may have been made in voir dire -- and after. Here's what lawyers can learn from the Aurora shooting jury mess.

1. Thoroughly Research Jurors

There's little a lawyer can do to control a juror's actions once they're in the jury box. There's no way defense lawyers could have prevented the first three jurors from discussing tweets about the case, for example. But they could have caught the potential biases of the two jurors dismissed this week with sufficient research.

The last juror dismissed was let go following the testimony of Maria Carbonell, who was injured in the shooting. If anyone had investigated where Carbonell, a mother of three, sent her children to school, they would have found out that the dismissed juror worked there. Instead, it was up to Carbonell to reveal the connection, reporting that she knew the juror after her testimony.

2. Address Problems as They Come Up

Voir dire isn't your only time to take on potential jury bias. Monday's booted juror was let go when it was revealed that her brother-in-law had been the victim of a random shooting. No one was clued in when she requested to visit him in the hospital -- she said he had just been in an accident -- because no one researched it at the time.

Yes, this is a tough call. The shooting happened in the middle of trial, on June 10th. But, had the attorneys in the case been hyper-vigilant, they may have questioned what type of "accident" was causing the juror to ask to visit Denver Medical Health Center (a place off limits to jurors as many shooting victims were treated there). Clearly, the extensive research you do before trial needs to continue when circumstances arise.

3. Remember, Jurors Lie

Lawyers who are suspicious of a juror's answer in voir dire should investigate their suspicions fully. Following one's gut could have revealed conflicts behind the "not fully forthcoming" answers given by some Aurora jurors.

It can also help protect against rogue jurors, as a recent Second Circuit case demonstrates. In the prosecution of a Deutsche Bank broker, one juror completely misrepresented her background and essentially hijacked the jury to ensure the banker's conviction -- all while the defense lawyers suspected that she might have mislead them but failed to pursue their suspicions fully. The banker only narrowly escaped a ruling that his lawyers' failure to investigate waived his right to a fair trial.

Related Resources: