By Sunny Frazier
On Sept. 3, Criminalist Specialist David Mugridge spoke to the San Joaquin Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Fresno. His topic was jury selection and his tricks of the trade.
In Latin, Voir Dire translates to “To Tell the Truth.” Not the TV game show, although there is gamesmanship involved. The first question an attorney tells himself is “Who are these people?” Through an extensive questionnaire both prosecuting and defense attorneys get a vague idea of the people in the jury pool. Through questioning, they can use a certain number of eliminations for cause in picking the jury.
Mugridge said the attorney has to be a “quasi-psychologist, quasi-Johnny Carson.” The idea is to entertain, make sure they don’t fall asleep and give them a reason to like you. He even throws in a few lawyer jokes to loosen them up.
He also watches potential jurors as they come through the door. Are they carrying a book—what kind? Do they come in groups, indicating early bonding, or alone? What kind of clothes are they wearing? Are they bald? While asking questions, the attorney listens not only what is said, but what words are used. “Words matter,” Mugridge emphasized. As readers and writers, we agree.
As a defense attorney, he dresses the defendant much like himself and lets the jurors try to guess which one is the lawyer and which is the defendant. He seeks to personalize his client. He also seats a woman next to a defendant who is perceived as violent to put in the mind of jurors that she feels “safe” and not afraid.
“The weakest training for lawyers is jury selection,” Mugridge concluded.