May 18, 2010
In last year’s federal terrorism case against once-suspected “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, a team of defense lawyers were sitting at a back table in the Miami federal courtroom with their laptops searching online all the jurors when they discovered one had lied on her jury questionnaire.
The woman, a Miami-area government employee who has not been identified, said she had no personal experience in the criminal system.
It turned out she was currently under investigation for malfeasance, according to Linda Moreno, a Tampa, Fla., solo trial lawyer who served as a jury consultant for one of Padilla’s co-defendants. After the judge was informed, she dismissed the juror. See U.S. v. Hassoun, No. 0:04cr60001 (S.D. Fla.).
The Miami case was not unusual. As more and more information on people becomes available on the Internet, through posting on personal blogs, MySpace, Facebook and other social networking Web sites, the Internet has, in the last few years, become an important tool for jury consultants and trial lawyers.
Jury consultants say such sites are a treasure trove of information about potential and seated jurors that can be used in picking the right jurors, bouncing potential jurors and even influencing jurors through the trial and in closing arguments.
To mine the gold, jury consultants have begun turning to private investigators, some of whom have started niche businesses offering Internet jury research and “personality profiling” of jurors.
“If it’s within the law, with peoples’ lives at stake and millions and millions of dollars at stake, people will do whatever it takes to win a case,” said Marshall Hennington, a Beverly Hills, Calif., jury consultant at Hennington & Associates. “The stakes are getting higher and higher, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to persuade jurors that have strong biases … so we need information ahead of time. Everything is fair game.”
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