Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ryan trial uproar may lead to criminal background checks for jurors

Criminal background checks for jurors could become widespread. Privacy advocates will of course be against such attempts by state and federal courts to screen out lying jurors.

What I've learned is that the trial of former Governor George Ryan is just the latest incident of jurors lying about criminal records when filling out their pre-trial questionnaires.

Here is what AP found:

A year ago in Florida, a judge sentenced a 19-year-old high school dropout to four months in jail for not mentioning his arrest record when he was called for jury duty. The juror said he didn't intentionally try to hide anything when called for jury duty, saying he had problems reading a questionnaire that asks whether prospective jurors have a criminal background.

In 2004, the judge overseeing Massachusetts trial courts said that state needed to do a better job of screening jurors for criminal backgrounds that might bias their consideration of a case. Robert Mulligan spoke out after three jurors were dismissed and a mistrial declared in the case of a man accused of killing a 10-year-old girl. The jurors allegedly lied about not having criminal records.

According to that article, the state's attorneys in two southern Illinois counties routinely screen potential jurors for past criminal indiscretions.

Here is the scary part:

Los Angeles-based jury consultant Phil Anthony, chief executive of DecisionQuest Inc., said rigorous juror selection would weed out what his industry calls the "stealth juror" -- someone willing to hide their background or biases to get on a high-profile case for notoriety, profit or "to make a statement." Nearly one in five would-be jurors fall into that category, "an accelerating trend," he said.

And the trial of a former governor is just the type of trial to attract that kind of juror.

I must be old-school. I though people looked for ways to not serve on a jury, particularly for months-long trials. However, the influence of television shows such as "Law & Order," as well as the cable TV network Court TV are showing their influence on society.

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