When in-person trials fully resume the pandemic will be under control and prospective jurors will be confident that responding to a jury summons is a safe practice. Fast forward to when dozens and dozens of strangers are packed into a courtroom and jury selection commences. Hard to imagine now. One thing we know for sure is that when jury trials resume, each and every panelist will have lived through the prior year (or so) with the world of Covid-19 a commonality. For the first set of trials that occur and maybe for months afterwards, while feelings of normality will set in to some extent, Covid-19 will linger in the rearview mirror for quite some time.
Everyone in the jury pool will have something to say about Covid-19, which is why it might be a good place to start a conversation with potential jurors at the inception of voir dire. Softball type questions and those that aren’t fully relevant to the key case issues are typically ideal “warm up” questions to get the panel comfortable, start them talking, and begin the establishment of rapport during the crucial early stages of trial. But more than merely loosening up the panel can be gained by getting the potential jurors to talk about their experiences with and attitudes of living through a one in a hundred year pandemic and the immediate aftermath.
First and foremost, when bringing up Covid-19 during voir dire (in some cases you might want to just flat out in open-ended fashion ask jurors in general what it has been like living through Covid-19), there will probably be some initial unburdening of the challenges and struggles jurors endured during the Covid-19 time period. What they reveal will vary widely, but by and large this discussion will evoke some disconsolate anecdotes.
Some panelists may speak of loved ones who died during the pandemic. Others will talk about their personal experience with the virus, some that had severe symptoms and others more mild symptoms. The discussion might veer into the economics of the pandemic. As jurors unload personal information about themselves and become comfortable talking with you, the lawyer, about Covid-19, now is when you get jurors talking about aspects of Covid-19 that will reveal all sorts of insights into their fundamental beliefs and schemas (cognitive building blocks) that will help ascertain whether they will be a good, bad, or neutral juror in your case. Next week I will provide examples of relevant voir dire topics, questions, and likely answers from panelists that I believe will provide a better understanding of your jury pool.