- Alexis Knutson
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW, JUST ASK: USING POST-TRIAL JUROR INTERVIEWS TO DISSECT YOUR CASE
The Serial podcast comes up often at family gatherings, as my aunt and I have both spent years in the legal field. We discuss whether Adnan can argue ineffective assistance of counsel, if the case was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and why Jay’s timeline has more plot holes than Fifty Shades of Grey.
If you haven’t heard of Adnan Syed, Jay Wilds, the Serial podcast, or it’s follow-up podcast, Undisclosed: The State v. Adnan Syed, start by listening to Serial here (trust me – you will start looking forward to your morning commute with hopes of getting stuck in traffic, just so you can listen to a few more minutes). Serial leads its listeners through the twisted true story of the murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore in January 1999. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is currently serving a life sentence in a Baltimore prison for her murder; though as Serial details, the evidence that put him there was slim.
As Undisclosed marches forward, many wonder what information could have been retrieved had a thorough investigation been done over 15 years ago when the murder took place. As a Research Associate with Tsongas, I can’t help but wonder what information could have been gleaned from post-trial juror interviews. After all, jurors took just two hours to deliberate and reach a guilty verdict. What did they talk about? What evidence or key witnesses were important? Were jurors as confused by the evidence and timeline as the over five million Serial listeners? I could go on and on.
Post-trial juror interviews allow you to lift the dark veil that shrouds the deliberation room. In utilizing these interviews, you can learn what was important to the jurors. Interviews after the fact allow you to understand not only what jurors retained from the courtroom, but what they carried into the deliberative process to share with their fellow jurors. You can examine the themes that stuck, what worked, and what did not. If someone had simply asked the 12 jurors who believed Syed to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt after discussing the six-week trial for two hours, they could shed light on what they considered to be the big issues in the case – the trial facts they simply could not ignore.
Whether post-trial juror interviews are done out of pure interest (as is often done in the media – see Jodie Arias’s, Aaron Hernandez’s, and George Zimmerman’s juror interviews), or for the systematic collection and examination of qualitative data (as trial consultants do), an immense amount of useful information can be gleaned simply by asking. Here are some things to keep in mind if you think post-trial juror interviews might be for you:
Plan ahead. You will want to gather the contact information and preferred contact method of jurors prior to their release, so you have accurate information when conducting the interviews.
Use a jury consultant or other outside resource. As is the normal human tendency, jurors will tell attorneys what they want to hear. If you use an outside resource, jurors may be more open and honest about how they felt about the parties in the case.
Move quickly, but not too quickly. It is important that the interviews be done soon after the trial concludes. Otherwise, jurors move on and become unwilling or unable to spill the most useful details from the deliberation room. However, approaching them in the minutes or hours after the trial may prove less useful, as jurors haven’t had a chance to reflect on the process or the decisions they made.
Ask case specific questions. Ask question that help you examine what went well and what fell flat for your side. Learn how jurors made a decision about liability and how they determined damages, if applicable. But also…
Ask open ended questions. You want to learn what jurors actually experienced rather than asking them to confirm what you think they experienced. Get them talking, and they may open up a topic you had never considered.
Use interviews as a learning tool. For those attorneys who litigate many similar types of cases, understanding what was important for jurors in one case can give valuable insight into how jurors will behave on the next go-round. Although the specific facts in the case may change, the general formula for what was persuasive and what was unbelievable can be applied to similar cases moving forward.
Unfortunately, we will likely never know what the 12 jurors in Adnan Syed’s case were thinking during their two hours behind closed doors. And if you’ve ever tried recalling a distant memory from over 15 years ago, you will agree this information is likely gone forever. Now ask yourself, could you have used the information from your last trial that only the jurors would know?