Is the driver feeling road rage going to be your potential juror?
Several times a month, drivers behind me throw up their hands or blast their horns when I do not run a yellow light about to change red, when I do not speed more than five miles an hour over the speed limit on the highway’s righthand lane (because the driver is anxious to exit fast), and, less often, when I do not take a righthand turn on red when the sign clearly says "NO TURN ON RED."
I hope these drivers at one time in their lives had a sense of awe and wonder at obtaining their driver’s license and a car to zoom the open roads, to go farther than a bicycle could, and to feel a new level of independence. Perhaps they can summon back those feelings one day.
The drivers are aplenty who tailgate to try to pressure additional speeding or changing lanes, change lanes in front of other cars in intersections at the risk of creating redlight gridlock, and flip the bird at drivers following the traffic laws rather than risking their lives and moving violation tickets to get to their destination a few moments earlier.
Where are these people driving that makes them so imbalanced in their driving behavior? What caused them not to get behind the wheel earlier so as not to feel anxious about getting to work or other appointments late? How many of them are the folks who call me for help after being charged with jailable reckless driving in Virginia for excessive speed, all smiles when visiting me but not necessarily so pleasant when behind the wheel?
The above-described drivers could be on my list of potential jurors for the day’s trial, and may have driven that way to court, all pumped with anxiety, anger, and adrenaline. How do I identify and weed them off the jury, if I in fact want them off the jury panel? How do I help ease them towards calm, kindness and attention to my case? How do I help them interact productively with their fellow jurors during deliberations?
Potentially problematic jurors are not only the angry and aggressive drivers. No potential juror comes to court with a clean slate, as no person does. Many are struggling with the tough unemployment numbers, or with fears of layoffs. Many drove to the courthouse having left unresolved disputes at home. Many have family members who are seriously ill, or who have recently died. How to get jurors to pay full time and attention at trial when so much is going on in their personal lives? (Of course, fortunately, many jurors are full of positive energy.)
For starters, it is essential for judges and rulemakers to allow substantial lawyer-conducted voir dire/questioning of (and talking with) potential jurors, which is common in Virginia, but uncommon in neighboring Maryland, where judges typically do the questioning, after reviewing proposed written questions from the parties, and allowing a certain level of follow-up questions by lawyers of jurors who answer any questions.
Trial lawyers need to develop observation and intuition skills to figure out which jurors are problem jurors, and whether they will be more problematic for the lawyer or for his or her opponent’s case.
Furthermore, a good trial lawyer can help reduce juror members’ anxiety, anger, and inattention by being fully kind, attentive, and caring towards the jurors, including, but not limited to, being fully prepared for trial, not showing nervousness, being confident (not overconfident), not wasting the jurors’ time, and anticipating what the jurors want to know about the case.
Also, on the way to court, the trial lawyer will want to remember the face of any drivers acting frustrated at the lawyer on the road. That other driver just might be on his or her way to the lawyer’s potential jury panel. That is a reminder for the trial lawyer to be kind to everyone s/he interacts with on a daily basis. On the macro level, that is the right thing to do as a human being. On the micro level, the person who gets angry at a lawyer today, may show up on his or her jury panel in the future, and never admit the potential juror has ever seen the lawyer before.