9 Things Lawyers Look for When Picking a Jury

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At some point in your adult life, chances are good you’ll be called to serve jury duty. But the odds that you’ll actually sit on a trial are much lower. What, exactly, makes an ideal juror? What are lawyers on both sides of a case looking for in a lineup of random people? The answer, of course, depends on the case itself. But there are a few general traits attorneys take into consideration when trying to decide whether you’d help or hurt their argument. 

Attorneys don’t get to pick their jurors. Instead, using a mixture of intense questioning, keen observation, and stereotyping, they get to eliminate people they think would hurt their case. “It’s not like a baseball team where you can choose your team members,” says Jeffrey Frederick, Director of Jury Research Services at the National Legal Research Group and author of Mastering Voir Dire and Jury Selection. “It’s not who I want, it’s who I don’t want. What we try to do is think of what backgrounds, life experiences, cognitive styles, opinions, and values jurors might have that would make them less receptive to our case.” Clues like demographics and personality can improve a lawyer’s chance of predicting a juror’s stance on a verdict by up to 15 percent. Here are a few things lawyers take into consideration when trying to figure you out. 

1. YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

Attorneys pay close attention to any relationships that might color your opinions. For example, “if it’s a medical malpractice case and there’s a woman and all of her friends are nurses, that might bias her a little bit,” says Matthew Ferrara, Ph.D, a trial consultant and forensic psychologist. And if you have friends or family in law enforcement, that’s a big red flag. “In a criminal case, relationship to someone in law enforcement is paramount,” Ferrara says. “People who are probation officers, police officers, jailers or are related to the same type of profession would be probably viewed as biased toward the prosecution.”

2. YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE LAW

Even if you aren’t directly related to a police officer or member of the judicial system, you can still have opinions about law enforcement rooted in your own personal experiences. Perhaps you feel you were unfairly ticketed for speeding, or you’ve been the victim of police profiling. This is all very important, because research shows that when juries deliberate, they spend 50 percent of their time talking about their own personal experiences as a way of judging the case. To sniff out bias, lawyers will ask jurors if they agree with statements like, “If someone is charged, they’re probably guilty,” or “Laws do more to protect the rights of criminal defendants and too little for victims and families,” or “Would you believe the testimony of a police officer based solely on his position as an officer?” 

The defense is going to look for people who are more open-minded about the law, and don’t always believe that it makes the right call. The plaintiff attorney or prosecutor will generally look for people more inclined to trust authority. 

One quick way to get dismissed from a jury, according to Tom King, a former Deputy Prosecutor in Indiana, is to voice strong opinions about the legal system: “Say, ‘I’ve read about these criminal prosecutions where the police and the prosecutors made up evidence and I just don’t think it’s a fair system.’” 

3. YOUR INTERNET FOOTPRINT

Your public activity on various social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are fair game. Have you been sharing or commenting on any relevant news articles? Did you recently write an opinionated Letter To The Editor? Do you belong to a particular group on Facebook? All of that could show a sign of bias. “In some cases it turns out political party affiliation is relevant and if that’s the case, then you start looking at political websites, Facebook pages, campaign contributions, all kinds of things that might indicate a political orientation,” Frederick says. 

4. YOUR RELIGION

One common question presented to jurors is, “Are there any religious beliefs that prevent you from passing judgment on another person?” Frederick says this is to weed out people whose faith might impede their ability to view a case objectively. 

5. YOUR ATTITUDE

If you come into jury duty with an air of positivity, you increase your chances of staying on as a juror. “If they’re ticked off, I don’t wanna take that chance because that could be transferred to my case,” says King. Indeed, research shows that if you don’t vibe well with an attorney, you’re more likely to decide against their argument. “One attorney told me, 'If I can tell they don’t like me, I get rid of them,’” King says. 

6. YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS (Or lack thereof)

Leaders, contrarians, and independent thinkers can be pivotal in a verdict. These people have the potential to rally the rest of the group behind a unanimous decision, which is great for the plaintiff or the prosecutor. But they also won’t be afraid to disagree with everyone else, resulting in a hung jury, which is great for the defense. “With the prosecution, you wanna see a group that can work together,” Frederick says. “As the defense you are willing to have people on there who will have a problem working together.” Lawyers want to identify the leaders quickly and decide if they’ll work for or against their case. “If you’re the leader and they don’t think you’re on their side, they’ll eliminate you immediately,” Ferrara says. Attorneys will look for leadership positions in your history, and take note of how assertive you are during the questioning process. “Do they tend to speak up in a group or not?” asks Frederick. “I’ve heard people correct us attorneys, and you go, ‘that’s pretty assertive.’”

7. YOUR CLOTHES

While clothing alone usually isn’t enough to get you dismissed, lawyers can make superficial judgments about your character based on your wardrobe. This even includes your shoes. According to the Synchronics Group Trial Consultants, a “nurturing, open, receptive and generous person” will likely wear casual shoes “with plenty of room for the toes, because these people don't want to be hemmed in. No pointy tips. The heels will be low, because open people want to be able to move around easily. No stilettos. Sandals, sports and walking shoes are more likely to fit this person's style than compact, tight dress shoes.” On the contrary, the Synchronics Group says, uptight and cautious jurors will wear more formal and well-maintained shoes. Generally, “if you wanna make it on a jury,” says Ferrara, “then dress conservatively and in an non-flashy manor.” 

8. YOUR HAIR

Open and receptive jurors, according to the Synchronics Group Trial Consultants, will have hair that is “casual and naturally flowing, rather than highly styled or gelled or plastered to the head … Beards and mustaches will be natural looking, rather than designed and sculpted.” The old adage says you can’t judge a book by its cover, but attorneys will certainly try. 

9. YOUR BODY LANGUAGE

Non-verbal behavior can say a lot about what you’re thinking. “We’re not mind readers,” says Frederick, “but you can see behaviors indicating they are really not receptive to you at all, or they’re very receptive to you, and you pay attention to that.” For example, according to the Synchronics Group Trial Consultants, open and receptive people “will be sitting in open postures, i.e., with their hands on the chair arm instead of folded across their stomach.” Lawyers will observe jurors’ faces for telling reactions while the judge reads the charges aloud. Some will “look over at the defense like they have daggers in their eyes,” Frederick says. “Or they may look over somewhat sympathetic.” 

According to Trial Consulting Firm DecisionQuest, “Non-verbal behavior is only one clue as to how someone might be feeling at any given moment, not an indicator of basic attitudes or biases.” Like clothing choice and hairstyle, body language is only part of the puzzle. Still, King says, “there were times when, as soon as the jury was seated and all the other people were gone, I would look up and I would just know.”

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Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.