A federal jury on March 15 sentenced convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death, a verdict many viewed as a surprise. After all, Massachusetts is one of the most liberal states in the country, it banned capital punishment in 1987 and a poll in late April showed only 15 percent of Bostonians favored executing Tsarnaev.
But perhaps this verdict shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. How a broader community feels about big-picture issues involved in a legal case sometimes does not correlate with how a specific trial jury will decide. In the Boston case, the jurors clearly believed Tsarnaev’s crime was heinous enough to overcome their community’s hesitation about the merits and morality of the death penalty.
In the civil arena, we have found jurors in even extremely conservative, anti-lawsuit jurisdictions will find for a plaintiff they believe has a legitimate grievance, and jurors in the most plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions are able to sniff out a bogus case or transparent money grab.
As our readers know, we believe focus groups are the best way to avoid surprises and find out what potential jurors think of your case independent of the community’s values. If your case is one that could prompt even a conservative jury to render a large plaintiff verdict, it’s best to know that ahead of time.
Focus groups are particularly effective at evaluating whether a jury is likely to find your big-picture themes compelling. In the Tsarnaev case, only three of 12 jurors accepted the defense’s central contention that Dzhokhar was a patsy acting under the influence of his older brother. If the defense had better tested this out in focus groups ahead of time, they might have placed less emphasis on that argument.
Every jury is different, and it’s impossible to predict how a specific trial jury in any jurisdiction will react to a specific case. If you’d like to avoid surprises and get a read on jurors’ reaction to your case ahead of time, we’d be happy to help. Contact Senior Vice President Claire Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or 714.754.1010 to find out more about our research services.