Ahmaud Arbery: Jury Selection Notes

  • Defense attorneys wanted to prevent the media from having access to the answers of potential jurors during the jury selection process.
  • Since members of the public not involved in the case are not allowed in the courtroom, this essentially would prevent the public from knowing about the jury selection process.
  • The judge “compromised” by allowing two reporters to take “notes” during the individual sequestered questioning of the potential jurors. These notes have consisted of almost nothing every day.
  • Trials are supposed to be public.  Public scrutiny of the trial process is an essential check on the process.  Glynn County, however, has held the trial in a normal courtroom, completely ignoring the importance of the case.
  • Court TV is supposed to be line-streaming the trial, but after the first day of jury selection, they have moved on to other trials.
  • This situation effectively blocks the public from examining one of the most important parts of the trial.
  • Citizens in a democratic society should not be shielded from answering questions when they serve on a jury.  Citizens should not be afraid or ashamed of answering questions in public about their views and opinions.
  • One criminal defense lawyer on Court TV commented that she felt questions like “Do you think displaying the former state flag of Georgia is racist” were “lazy.”  An attorney from Georgia maintained that lawyers in Georgia have to start with a general question and then go onto a specific question in individual questioning.
  • When I used to teach, I used an article entitled “Is it Possible to Pick a non-racist Jury?”  The jest of the article was that asking blunt questions like “Do you consider this or that racist” were not useful.  A much more useful way of getting at racial prejudices was to ask, for example, if jurors had ever had a member of a racial minority in their house.
  • On Tuesday, the state objected to the defense attorney for Travis McMichael using the fact that T. McMichael had worked for the Coast Guard in asking potential jurors if they knew Travis.  The Assistant DA argued that the attorney was trying to introduce character evidence into the jury selection process.
  • A criminal defense lawyer interviewed later in the day pointed out that Assistant DA, Dunikowski, is normally an appellate lawyer and she is particularly sensitive to protecting the process from later appeals.
  • While I am sure that attorneys regularly introduce their clients with their arm slung over their shoulder, this seemed particularly hokey yesterday when it was done.  Travis McMichael stood up (cleaned up to look like a law clerk) and the attorney stood next to him hugging him like he was Travis’ father.  Maybe people fall for that kind of cheap showmanship, but I doubt it.
  • My impression of Sheffield is that he is an expert at introducing minute signals to the jury that slide under the level of something that would be successfully objected to, but which are nevertheless intended to leave a message.
  • For example, when Sheffield was questioning potential jurors yesterday, he would add a comment after he got a show of hands.  “Very good, thank you.”  He would say after the response to some questions and not others.
  • This may seem like a small point, and I am sure he would argue that he was just trying to establish rapport with the jury pool, but those affirmative responses can influence a juror.
  • When I was a teenager, the brother of a friend was a graduate student and he sat each of us down individually and asked questions about an interaction between two people.  He would respond positively (like “Very good, thank you.”) to responses to some questions but remain silent after the responses to other questions.
  • When he had finished the interview he asked if I knew what he was doing.  “You were responding positively when I answered questions supporting actor A, but not respond when I gave answers supporting actor B.  this was in fact exactly what he was doing.
  • The point of the experiment was to demonstrate that psychiatrists and psychologists could mold the answers of their clients by small positive or negative responses.
  • Sheffield asked if there were any negative feelings about criminal defense lawyers and no one raised their hands, he said: “This is very encouraging.”
  • I don’t see the need for Sheffield to make any evaluative comment in response to the juror responses.  But, I also don’t see the state objecting to it.  It is just too subtle.
  • Assistant DA Dobronski was already getting criticism for objecting to the identification of Travis McMichael as a former member of the Coast Goard.  One of the attorneys on Court TV noted that repeated objections to things this small would annoy the judge and slow down the trial.
  • The judge, while repeatedly claiming that he will take all the time needed, also repeatedly reminds people that they need to speed up.
  • He had initially thought that the attorneys could get through 40 potential jurors a day.  They have gotten through less than 20.

The Attorneys

  • The Assistant DA who is doing the jury selection had concerns about biases against the prosecutors because they came from outside of Glynn County.
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