Jury-rigging

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Aug. 10 2006 3:46 PM

Jury-Rigging

Can a computer pick a better jury than a high-priced consultant?

(Continued from Page 1)

What JuryQuest has in common with its human competitors are clients hamstrung by a shortage of meaningful information about the strangers rounded up for jury duty. Where the program differs is in its approach. Instead of using subtle behavioral clues to plumb for concealed opinions, JuryQuest seeks meaning in only superficial traits. People are either sympathetic to someone accused of a crime or they're not, JuryQuest posits. That's it.

The program's results often approximate those of intuitive reasoning. Asked to judge an Asian engineer in his late 20s, a professional jury consultant might cite recent sociology work documenting generational attitude differences in Asian-Americans before concluding that he isn't a major threat to the defense. JuryQuest doesn't tell you that; it just spits out a number right in the middle of its bias spectrum. According to either method, he's not the guy to blow a challenge on.

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That juror bias could be crammed onto a single axis strikes some observers as less elegant than simplistic. Victor Gold, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in jury selection, said a program like JuryQuest would likely be of only limited value. "It would be as if someone came up with a system where you run a form through a database, and we come up with your ideal spouse," Gold says. "To have a lot of faith in it is foolish. Juries are far more complex than any computer program can address."

Gold's got a point. And in fact, attorneys who use JuryQuest do seem most comfortable using it the same way singles use the suggestions of an Internet dating site. By aligning significant but underappreciated qualities in its subscribers, the leading dating sites analyze potential romantic pairings in order to provide suggestions, confirmations, or the rationale for cold feet. No attorney would let JuryQuest impanel a jury on its own, just as Match.com's clients wouldn't blindly accept the site's suggestions for whom to elope with.

But whether the Web site's suggestions might result in a closer look and possibly even drinks with an otherwise middling candidate is another matter, and one with some parallels to picking juries. Relying on probability in either love or law might not be ideal, but it's a pragmatic place to start.

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