Peter Schaffer: How to Pick a Jury

Peter Schaffer: My case would have to be one that would be so controversial or so offensive to the average person that I would think they’d be better off with a judge.  It’s very rare.  The only time that I can think of doing it is where I’ve had a client where their race was different than the race of all of the jury panel and I felt that and the race of complainant was the same as all of the jury panel and in an exercise of caution I thought my client would do better in front of a judge.  Now race isn’t the only consideration.  I mean if it’s an offense that- you know,

offenses involving where the child’s an alleged victim and people will bend over backwards to try to protect children, and there may be facts, legal issue that are better decided by a judge, I might consider going in front of a judge.  But my experience in front of juries has been very favorable and it would take a lot for me to waive clients.  One of the most fundamental rights that someone has being a criminal defendant in the United States is the ability to have a jury decide their fate rather than one individual.  So it doesn’t happen often.


Question: What will both a defense attorney and prosecutor look for in a jury?


Peter Schaffer:  Well, I haven’t been a prosecutor, but I know they pretty much want to pick the people that I would get rid of and vice-versa.  It really depends on the case.  I mean you have to make generalizations, but again, it depends the type of case.  If it’s a case where there’s police witnesses, I want people that have a lot of experience in the community to know that not everything a police officer says is necessarily a hundred percent true, that they’re going to listen.  And I talk to individual jurors and sort of bounce their ideas off other people.  I wouldn’t say that there’s categories of people I avoid a hundred percent except for of course law enforcement.  I would never seat another lawyer ‘cause they would take over the jury and I don’t think that they’re necessarily great for the defense

unless they’re a defense lawyer and they probably wouldn’t make it too far in the panel anyways.  I think the prosecution- I can’t generalize, but I think that they try to find people that would be sort of anti crime but won’t say that, but that they can kind of tell.  And I think prosecutors, again, we try to strike those people.  Prosecutors try to find people that are different as possible from your client; whereas I might try to find someone that has some common ground with my client.


Question: What is the process of selecting a jury?


Peter Schaffer:  Well, it depends in every jurisdiction.  In New York, it’s based on the level of the offense.  If it’s a misdemeanor and you get a misdemeanor jury, you have three peremptory strikes; in other words, three strikes you can use for any reason except for one that’s, you know, prevented by the constitution.  You can’t strike someone because you don’t like their race or you don’t like their sexual orientation or their sex, etcetera.  And as the crimes get more serious, the amount of strikes you get goes up.  I mean for something like a B felony, which is fairly serious but includes a lot of the cases that would handle drug sales, you get 15 challenges.  And those are independent of what are called challenges for cause which if a person for one reason or another can’t be fair, there’s an unlimited amount of challenges you get for that.  So jury selection, it’s necessary, but it can be cumbersome, it could take longer than the trial itself, but it’s really the part of the trial that I try to focus on because it doesn’t matter
+
how good your case is, it really depends on who’s listening to it.

The process, what to look for and what to stay away from.

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less