In the movie "Meet the Fockers," Robert Deniro's CIA character is a 'human lie detector' simply by looking and touching someone's hands.
Police use lie detectors to determine if someone is lying.
While we'd all like to believe that lie detectors are perfect.
The reality is that they're not.
It's not like a computer program that analyzes your voice and determines that if you're stressed, you're lying.
Why do I even raise the issue of lie detectors in the same discussion as jury selection here in New York?
For an important reason.
When we pick a jury in a civil lawsuit seeking money as compensation, we need six members of the community who tell us they can be fair and impartial.
Nobody voluntarily just shows up for jury selection.
Nobody shows up one day and declares "Ok, I'm ready to do my civic duty and serve on a jury. Put me in coach!"
Instead, they are 'summoned' to court with a 'jury summons' in the mail.
The reality is that everyone who appears for jury duty comes with their own 'baggage'.
They come with stories.
They come with life experiences.
Some are less than successful.
Some are glad to be away from their job and divert their minds to something other than work.
Others are happy to be away from their families for a few days.
Yet others are miserable.
Miserable since it's inconvenient to spend all this time worrying about someone else's legal problem.
Miserable since they may not be making any money if they're not working.
Everyone comes with a history and their own 'baggage'.
Everyone walks into court with their own beliefs.
As attorneys who are looking for the ideal juror to sit in judgment on your case, we would love the opportunity to learn all their beliefs.
We'd love the chance to learn whether someone was leaning in favor of Trump or Clinton.
How do they feel about immigrants coming into this country illegaly?
Do you favor tax cuts for the middle class?
What do you think of the Mayor of NYC?
Everyone has an opinion.
Let's say this is a medical malpractice case.
You believe your doctor was careless and caused you harm.
You believe your injuries are permanent.
We have a medical expert who confirms you have a valid case.
They claim your doctor did nothing wrong.
If he did something wrong, he argues, so did you.
He also claims your injuries are not as bad as you make them out to be.
The defense refuses to negotiate.
That means a jury is going to decide whether you are more likely right than wrong that what you are claiming is true.
A jury will determine whether your doctor was careless.
A jury will determine whether his carelessness was a cause of your injury.
If the jury determines your doctor was careless and that carelessness caused you injury, then they will evaluate how much money you are to receive to compensate you for all of your injuries.
What do we REALLY know about them?
Are they inclined to give you a substantial amount of money if we can show that we are more likely right than wrong?
Do they have certain feelings or beliefs about people who bring lawsuits?
Do they feel that doctors can do no wrong?
What do they think about tort reform?
How do they feel about frivolous cases?
Jurors are not asked to fill out a lengthy questionnaire before coming into court detailing all of their beliefs.
They do fill out a short questionnaire that gives us some basic information about who they are, their level of education and what type of work they do.
A young attorney might ask a roomful of potential jurors “Is anyone here prejudiced?”
Do you want to know why that is a horrible question?
It's because no one is willingly going admit, to a room full of strangers, that they harbor prejudice.
Instead, there are specific questions that we can ask during jury selection that give us a better understanding about whether a potential juror is leaning towards one side or another based upon their history, their experience and their beliefs.
When we talk to jurors about their beliefs and about their feelings, how do we know whether they are telling us the truth?
How do we really know that what they are saying is true?
Do jurors get hooked up to lie detectors during jury selection?
The answer is no.
We attorneys have to become sort of human lie detectors.
Our experience picking juries and trying cases gives us an understanding or a gut feeling about whether a juror is being straight with us.
This gut feeling is clearly not an exact science.
We cannot delve into the minds of each of these jurors.
We don't have the science.
We don't have the ability to accurately detect whether someone is telling the truth when we explore their feelings and prejudices.
Instead, we have to rely on their honesty.
We have to rely on our common sense.
We have to rely on body language.
We have to rely on jurors who want to do the right thing.
To go back to the headline of this article, jurors do not get zapped for giving the wrong answer.
Actually, there is no wrong answer during jury selection.
Did you know that we don't actually pick the jurors that we want?
Instead, we are required to remove those jurors that we don't want.
Whoever is left over is who will be on our jury.