Who is Willing to Show Up for Jury Service During a Pandemic?

Our COVID-19 survey focused on understanding the characteristics of those who were more likely to show up in court if they were called to serve as a juror during the pandemic. Our results indicate that there are unique pandemic-related, social, and political characteristics of people who are comfortable with jury service in a pandemic.

One survey question explored respondents’ comfort with doing a number of activities, including “serving as a juror in court, if selected.”  This question was asked on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being “Extremely Uncomfortable” and 5 being “Extremely Comfortable.”  As shown in the chart below, half of the participants (50%) chose “Extremely Uncomfortable,” or 1, on the scale.  Twenty-four percent selected “2” on the scale, 10% selected “3,” 8% selected 4, and 8% selected 5, or “Extremely Comfortable” on the scale.   

Chart showing the percentage of people who were comfortable or uncomfortable with serving as jurors in-person.

We used this variable to explore whether comfort with serving as a juror correlates with any of the other variables in our survey.   A number of statistically significant correlations that emerged, and this post summarizes those correlations.  

First, we report other pandemic-related variables that correlated with participants’ comfort serving as a juror during the pandemic. Second, we report social attitudes that correspond with comfort serving as a juror during the pandemic.  And finally, we report gender and political leanings that correlated with those who were comfortable serving as a juror during the pandemic. 

Our survey inquired about a number of COVID-19 concerns, and our analysis explored how those concerns corresponded with respondents’ comfort with serving as a juror at their local courthouse during the pandemic.  As shown in the chart below, respondents who were comfortable with jury service during the pandemic did not strongly support wearing masks, they were not concerned about contracting COVID-19, and were comfortable engaging in a range of tasks, including sending their children to school. The availability of hand sanitizer was more important to these participants, even though it was the least important coronavirus-protection protocol for all other survey respondents.  Further, it did not matter to those respondents whether jury service was conducted online, or in person – they were willing to serve without regard to social distancing practices during jury selection. Those who were willing to serve as in-person jurors during the pandemic were also more likely to be concerned about privacy if they completed a jury questionnaire online, rather than in-person. 

Results from survey list of characteristics of people who are comfortable serving in-person jury duty.

Social Characteristics of Those Who Are Comfortable Serving as Jurors During the Pandemic

Our survey also explored the relationship between those who are comfortable with jury service in a pandemic, and numerous social attitudes that we typically include as questions in our surveys.  A number of those social characteristics were statistically significant with participants’ willing to serve as jurors, and these characteristics are reported in the chart below. 

Results from survey list of characteristics of people who are comfortable serving in-person jury duty.

You may notice that a number of these characteristics tend to correspond with typically pro-defense attributes in many types of civil cases.  For example, those who are comfortable serving as in-person jurors during the pandemic have positive opinions about large corporations, and believe that business executives are more honest, than those who expressed discomfort serving as jurors during the pandemic.  Those who reported being more comfortable serving as in-person jurors during the pandemic were also less concerned about income inequality than those who were less comfortable serving as jurors. 

One question we typically ask on our questionnaires is, “In general, would you describe yourself as a black-and-white thinker (i.e., concrete concepts) or a shades-of-gray thinker (i.e., abstract concepts)?” Typically, about one-third of the people in our surveys characterize themselves as “black-and-white” thinkers.  In this survey, those who characterized themselves as “black-and-white” thinkers were more likely to be comfortable with jury service in a pandemic. 

Our survey asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “I basically believe that the world is a just place.”  Those who agreed with this statement were more likely to be comfortable serving as a juror for an in-person trial during the pandemic. 

One battery of questions that we ask on all of our surveys pertains to attitudes about lawsuits and damages awards.  Jurors who are comfortable as in-person jurors during the pandemic generally held negative opinions about lawsuits and large damages awards. 

Gender & Politics: Those Who Are Comfortable Serving as Jurors During the Pandemic

Our survey asked a series of questions about how the local, state, and federal government were responding to the pandemic.  We suspected that these questions would be especially important because shelter-in-place and social distancing requirements occurred during the most contentious presidential campaign in generations.  Our analysis confirms a divided country that mimics the results of the presidential election.  Those who were comfortable serving as jurors tended to be Republican men who had disapproved of the way the State of California was handling the pandemic, and approved of the way the federal government was handling the pandemic. 

What Does This Mean for In-Person Jury Trials During the Pandemic?

Potential jurors who have laissez-faire attitudes about the coronavirus, and are thus more likely to show up for in-person jury selection, tend to have attributes typically associated with a pro-defense leaning in civil cases, and a pro-prosecution leaning in criminal cases.  Counsel should be aware of the strategic advantages or concerns that jury selection during the pandemic can have on the jury pool.  A “full-steam-ahead” approach to trial, ignoring the risks of transmission, is very likely to result in a jury pool of boot-strapping rugged individualists, who may be loath to recognize themes of collective responsibility and emotional harm.  While this may be a more favorable trial terrain for defendants in civil cases, especially those cases where emotional distress damages are sought, such a strategy can backfire dramatically, especially in cases where the plaintiffs have a particularly strong case.  In post-trial interviews we’ve conducted over the years, we have heard a number of jurors question why a defendant would not agree to settle a case when the evidence strongly favored plaintiffs. Though our data suggests that in-person juries during the pandemic might tend to favor defendants, it is the facts of the case that will determine the outcome.

If you would like more information about how your case could be impacted by the pandemic, both during and after this period of social distancing, reach out to us.

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Bonora Rountree Trial Consulting & Research