One of the keys to picking a proper jury is the study of the jury questionnaires. A jury questionnaire is a series of questions that the potential jury pool fills out and allows both the prosecutor and the defense to view. A generic jury questionnaire will tell the attorneys where the prospective juror lives. It will indicate what they do for a living if they have ever been charged with a crime, and other issues are explored depending upon who draws up the questions. The point of this is for the attorneys to gauge the preferences and biases of the jurors. The problem with this is that each county, and for that matter, each judge, has a different view on the availability of these questions.
The utilization of jury questionnaires varies from county to county. For example, in Shiawassee County, a judge such as Matthew Stewart will make sure that all sides have an ample opportunity to study the questions and maintain a fair trial. In Washtenaw County, judges such as Cedric Simpson in district court and Archie Brown in circuit court are always concerned about fairness. In Wayne County, there is a multitude of volumes, and the attorney may never get to study jury questionnaires, and in Caro, you will not obtain these documents until the morning of trial. With such a lack of unity of law, the study of jurors becomes more complicated.
Something that our court system was not prepared for was the COVID-19. The Michigan Supreme Court has stated that no jury trials will be held until at least June 22, 2020, and in counties such as Wayne, mandates are saying August 17 at the earliest. The reality is that Zoom trials have been presented, and jury trials may not occur in 2020. With these issues in place, we turned to lawyers in our state to gain insight into the value of jury questionnaires.
Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus is a top business lawyer and has studied this issue at length. When asked, McManus said, “If we go to an alternative theory of jury trials, we are going to need uniformity in the questionnaires. We are going to need to stay a step ahead of the game to protect the rights of our clients. This is a dangerous time for the legal profession, and only the strong will survive.”
Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and a top divorce attorney in our state. Kelley added, “If we cannot study the potential jurors properly, the justice system is at great risk. This is a concern we all need to share and be unified on.”
William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as one of the top criminal lawyers in the State of Michigan. Amadeo said, “The reality is that when fighting for somebody’s freedom, you should always put 12 in the box instead of risking one on the bench. In these uncertain times, there needs to be accessible to these questionnaires early for both prosecutors and defense lawyers, or many innocent people will suffer constitutional violations.”
Nancy Eaton-Gordon is a partner at Jackson Eaton-Gordon in Lenawee County, Michigan and is known as one of the best lawyers in her county. Eaton-Gordon was quoted as saying, “Lenawee has always been fair with jury questionnaires and has allowed defense counsel to prepare properly. Of course, with COVID-19 present, we all are facing a new normal, and the questionnaires become even more powerful.”
Christian Weisenberg is the founder of the Fidelis Law Firm in Livingston County and is known as a rising star in criminal defense. Weisenberg stated, “A lot of times, a thorough study of the questionnaires could lead to advantageous sentencing agreements and unique trial strategy. If we don’t have them presented in a fair amount of time, our clients will suffer. The panels reviewing Zoom trials need to keep this issue in mind.”
While jury trials are always high risk, there has always been the most elevated of rewards: one’s freedom. With COVID-19 added to the equation, these questionnaires have become a priority essential to the interest of justice.