Focus Groups in Criminal Trials

Planning a viable defense in a criminal case can be a daunting task. A criminal defense attorney can plan his or her defense theories but can’t always be sure how receptive a jury will be to them. One way to find out how receptive a jury will be is by using a focus group.

Focus groups are used all the time by civil attorneys as they prepare for trial. They aren’t used as frequently in criminal cases primarily due to cost. They can be quite expensive. A focus group is almost always run by a professional jury consultant.

The jury consultant first determines where the focus group will be held. Usually it is in the jurisdiction where the trial is going to be held. If the jurisdiction is a small one then the a different jurisdiction will be chosen that has similar demographics. The consultant will use varies services to bring in jurors who will similar attitudes and beliefs as the jurors who will be called down to the courthouse to hear the case.

The defense attorneys prepare a case presentation for focus group. Both prosecution and defense cases are presented. The goal is not to win over the jurors as in a trial but to test different defensive theories to see how responsive the focus group is. In doing this the defense team learns what arguments and theories will have traction with a jury and which ones don’t. I was very skeptical the first time I participated in a focus group. I was made a believer when we followed the game plan developed at the focus group and our real jury returned three not guilty verdicts.

If you know a criminal case is going to go to trial and your client has the funds I would recommend a focus group. The information you can learn can make the difference between a guilty verdict and an acquittal.

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