Doing Jury Work

Doing Jury Work

Proving Impartiality in State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to have their guilt decided by an impartial jury. Yet, trials do not occur in a vacuum and prospective jurors bring with them to court various biases that cause them to be partial. To be selected as a juror, courts allow people to have strong opinions relevant to the case at hand if they are capable of putting those opinions to the side and making judgments solely on the evidence at hand; but how can one separate the two? This project analyzes the voir dire questioning of pro­spec­tive jurors during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of killing George Floyd. Given the extensive media coverage of Floyd’s death, several special steps were taken by the District Court of Minnesota to ensure selected ju­rors would be impartial, most notably the completion of extensive questionnaires where ju­rors detailed their knowledge of the case, feelings about the police and racial politics, and a range of other per­ti­nent topics. The adversarial American legal system tasks attorneys with influencing jury selection to be favorable to their client and this project analyzes the “jury work” that attorneys perform to rehabilitate, or alternatively de­mon­ize, prospective jurors. Using the sociological method of conversation analysis, we examine the conversation practices through which attorneys substantiate and undermine previously disclosed biases as they seek to change the court’s understanding of a prospective juror’s impartiality. The significance of this project is that it will provide findings to facilitate an evaluation of the way conversational practices influence judicial determinations of impar­tial­ity and include recommendations about actions courts can take to ensure that interactional constraints are accounted for when removing prospective jurors for cause. The intended scientific output of this project encom­passes several peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations.

 

Expected outcome: peer-reviewed journal articles
Project language:English
Photo:© Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels

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