“Backgrounding” a Juror During Voir Dire

October 2, 2006

In jury selection we always want to know more about prospective jurors than we can sometimes ask. Political correctness, gentlemanly discretion, or sometimes just a plain old having-a-bad-day judge will preclude our ability to find out certain things about people that we would really like to know before we let them decide our client’s fate.

An abundance of information about people is contained in databases on the internet. Sometimes a simple Google search can return a lot of information on an individual, but usually only on people who are somewhat active in their community. For the Average Joe, a more sophisticated database is required. If you are looking for such a database, check out the SmartLinx database published by Lexis.

For a flat monthly fee, you can have virtually unlimited access to the SmartLinx database which enables you to perform extensive, “one-click”, background checks on just about anyone. In order to perform the background check you will have to obtain from the prospective juror during jury selection (via oral questions or a juror questionnaire), certain basic information. You will need, at a minimum, the person’s last name, first name, and the city where they reside. To further expedite and refine your search it would be helpful to have the person’s address, social security number, and date of birth (which can often be obtained via written questionnaire with assistance from a helpful Court).

Armed with this basic information, a SmartLinx search will usually reveal: 1) Voters Registration Information; 2) Political Party Affiliation; 3) Vehicle Ownership; 4) Boat and Plane Ownership; 4) Licensing Information such as Drivers License, Hunting and Fishing Licenses, Weapons Permits, and Professional Licenses; 5) Business and Corporate Information including businesses owned and business associates; 6) Relatives; 7) Neighbors; 8) Home Value (including purchase date and price and amount of mortgage); and 9) Past residence addresses going back many years. With this information you can begin to get a pretty good picture about a person, their interests, and their life.

However, the SmartLinx database does not contain everything. Although it will provide some information on judgments, liens, and bankruptcies, it usually does not contain much information about a person’s litigation history or criminal record. Most of that information is available for free on-line at your local Clerk Of Court’s website, although that site usually will not contain litigation history or criminal history outside of the county.

Jury Selection in this millenium is unlike anything we did in the past. You can now know more about prospective jurors than you could ever know before the internet age. Sometimes this information will be dispositive. Sometimes just informative. But in either situation, the trial lawyer should know everything available about a potential juror before the first strikes are exercised.