Read It: The Jury Questionnaire from the OJ Simpson Criminal Trial

According to Juror Questions and Questionnaires, a publication of the Chicago Bar Association, questionnaire used for potential jurors in the 1995 criminal trial of OJ Simpson was the longest jury questionnaire in American history:

Questionnaires began gaining popularity in the early 1990s following their use in a number of high-profile and widely publicized civil cases such as the Exxon Valdez oil-spill and the “Jenny Jones Show” civil cases. Lengthy questionnaires (10-30 pages) were also utilized during the criminal prosecutions of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson, and Martha Stewart. Unprecedented for its length, the O.J. Simpson questionnaire was 302 questions and 75 pages long.

 

The Importance and Purpose of Jury Questionnaires

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA®) publishes Blue’s Guide to Jury Selection, which has been called the bible of jury selection. Author Lisa Blue has been named one of the top 100 Most influential Lawyers in America, one of the top 50 Women Litigators in the U.S. by National Law Journal, and received numerous other state and national recognition for her legal expertise.

 

In a 2010 presentation to the State Bar of Texas, Miss Blue detailed the importance and purpose of jury questionnaires:

Most attorneys think of jury questionnaires as time-saving devices — and they are. But they’re also valuable for other reasons. For example, while the content of the panel members’ answers can tell a lawyer how they feel about a case, the way in which they answer may reveal how they process information. This is important as a lawyer decides the most effective way to present evidence. Some jurors, for example, absorb information better through visual aids; others may rely heavily on statistical data when making decisions.

Another often-overlooked use of questionnaires is identifying areas for bonding. An attorney may learn, for instance, that a panel member has a hobby in common with the client or belongs to the same organization as one of the expert witnesses. Never overlook an opportunity to help jurors connect with the individuals on your side of the case.

Because jury questionnaires are an important tool on so many levels, it’s essential to craft questionnaires that elicit the most information, in quality and quantity, possible. There is no ideal jury questionnaire, but there are several techniques a lawyer can use to improve questionnaires and tailor them to each case.

 

The Simpson Jury Questionnaire

The jury questionnaire used in the State of California v. OJ Simpson consisted of 295 questions which served to probe potential jurors on their attitudes toward Simpson, the two people he is accused of killing, celebrities in general, domestic violence, DNA testing and interracial marriages.

 

Robert Hirschhorn, Co-Author of Blue’s Guide to Jury Selection, spoke to the New York Times in October 1995 about the knowledge that both sides would learn from the substantial jury questionnaire: “They don’t ask that many questions on the S.A.T. They are literally getting the book on that jury.”

 

Selecting a Jury in the Simpson Trial

In September 1994 an initial pool of 1,000 Los Angeles County residents received summons for jury duty and ordered to report to the Criminal Courts Building between September 25 – 29, 1994. On each of those days approximately 250 potential jurors would undergo the first round of screening.

 

There were two components to the first round of jury selection:

  • Hardship Questionnaire:

Each potential juror was asked if there was a valid financial, medical or family reason that would prevent them from serving as a juror for a trial that might take six months to complete.

 

After the attorneys and Judge Ito reviewed the hardship questionnaires, the potential jurors with valid hardships were excused.

 

  • Jury Questionnaire:

The remaining jurors would then complete the 295 questionnaire covering a wide-array of topics including, but not limited to, the following: their attitudes toward Simpson, the two people he is accused of killing, celebrities in general, domestic violence, DNA testing and interracial marriages.

 

Of the 1,000 men and women of Los Angeles County summoned for jury duty, 805 showed up.  After those with valid hardship issues were excused, 304 potential jurors remained and were tasked with completing the 85-page questionnaire.

 

At the completion of the first round of jury selection was completed in late-September 1994, both the prosecution and defense teams were provided a copy of the 304 completed questionnaires and two-weeks to review them.

 

The analysis of the questionnaires was an important component of preparation for voir dire, the portion of jury selection that seeks to screen out those who have made up their minds about the case, have biases against either side, or who cannot set aside information they have gained from sources outside court.

 

The 304 men and women who remained after the first round of jury selection were divided into three groups. The first group of potential jurors was scheduled to return to court to start voir dire on October 12, 1994, the second group on October 17th and the third group on October 24th.

 

Thirty-three potential jurors remained when the in-depth questioning concluded on October 27, 1994.

 

On November 3, 1994 a group of eight women and four men drawn from across Los Angeles County was sworn in to serve as the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, capping five weeks of prolonged and detailed questioning.

 

It is important to note that both sides only used 10 of their 20 peremptory challenges, which allow attorneys reject any prospect with whom they feel uncomfortable, as long as race or gender is not the reason.

 

The members of the jury come from various parts of Los Angeles County–three are from Inglewood, two are from South-Central Los Angeles and the rest from Burbank, Long Beach and Norwalk.

 

All of the jurors selected had seen the famous Bronco pursuit on June 17, 1994, but only four said they ever saw Simpson play football. 

 

In the weeks following the selection of the main panel, 15 alternates were selected. The alternate jurors insure that if anything should happen to any of the original 12 panelists–from illness to exposure to publicity in the high-profile case–the affected juror will be replaced by an alternate, allowing the trial to go on.

 

On December 8, 1994 the jury was seated.

 

The Jury Questionnaire Used in the OJ Simpson Trial

 

 

Questions, Comments?

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