Trump trial jury selection process follows a familiar pattern with an unpredictable outcome

NEW YORK — When the first batch of potential jurors were nominated for Donald Trump’s criminal trial this week, the only thing lawyers had to narrow down — at first — were their names and the answers they gave in court to a series of screening questions.

Then the lawyers went to work, scouring social media for posts that might reveal whether the jurors had hidden biases or extreme views.

One potential juror was dismissed by the judge after the former president’s lawyers found a 2017 online post about Trump that said, “Lock him up!” Trump’s lawyers rejected another potential juror after discovering she posted a video of New Yorkers celebrating President Joe Biden’s election victory.

It’s all part of an effort by both sides to get a competent jury that could – just maybe – go somewhat in their favor.

Even jury selection experts say there are limits to what a lawyer can do.

“We never choose a jury. We select jurors,” said Tama Kudman, an experienced criminal defense attorney from West Palm Beach, Florida, who also practices in New Jersey and New York.

“We never get who we want. “We’re just careful to weed out people we think are dangerous to our clients,” she said. ‘You know you’ve picked a good jury when no one is happy. The prosecutor didn’t get who they wanted. The defense didn’t get who they wanted. But everyone is somewhat freed from the people who really make the hair stand on the back of our necks.’

Jury selection in the Trump trial will resume on Thursday. So far, seven jurors have been chosen for the trial over allegations that Trump falsified business records to cover up a sex scandal during his 2016 campaign. Ultimately, twelve jurors will decide the verdict, while six alternates are on standby.

Nearly 200 potential jurors have been engaged so far. All potential jurors will be asked if they can be fair and impartial. Those who have said “no” so far have all been sent home.

Lawyers on both sides then sift through the answers potential jurors give orally in court to a series of 42 questions that probe whether they have been part of various extremist groups, attended pro- or anti-Trump rallies, or been involved in Trump’s political campaigns. , among other things.

The judge can dismiss people who are unlikely to appear impartial. State law also allows each side to “strike” up to 10 potential jurors they don’t like.

A jury consultant has helped Trump’s lawyers research the backgrounds of potential jurors whose names are provided to both sides but not to the public.

Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a jury consultant who worked on OJ Simpson’s trial team in the mid-1990s and still works in that capacity, said a social media check has become critical in recent years. She likened it to a “juror polygraph” that can reveal whether a potential juror’s answers to questions in court are false.

Yet such checks, Dimitrius said, are not infallible. Potential jurors can clean up their online footprint before appearing or make their social media accounts private.

Some people who were considered but not selected for Trump’s jury had things on their social media that looked problematic. Some had shared inflammatory messages, including a meme showing Trump being beheaded.

In both cases, the person was brought into court only to confirm that the messages did indeed appear or originate on his or her account – and in one case, on a spouse’s account. They were again asked about their feelings about Trump and whether they could act impartially.

A bookseller who had previously refused to share his feelings about the former president admitted to having a “very unfavorable overall impression” of him after being confronted with a series of Facebook posts, including a video mocking Trump.

In those cases, the judge agreed with Trump’s lawyers that the prospective jurors should be dismissed for good cause. But in other cases, Judge Juan M. Merchan said the posts did not rise to that level, forcing Trump’s lawyers to use their limited number of strikes to have the potential jurors removed.

“The question is not whether or not someone agrees with your client politically, the question is whether or not he can be fair and impartial,” Merchan told Trump’s lawyers.

The lawsuit prompted Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee in this year’s presidential race, to say in a Truth Social post on Wednesday that he thought strikes should be unlimited, not limited to 10, “while the Witch Hunt continues! ELECTION INVESTMENT!”

Among the six people hit by the Manhattan district attorney’s office were a prosecutor who works for the district attorney in the Bronx and a man who works in real estate and said he had read the book. Trump had read: ‘The Art of the Deal’.

Perhaps most memorable was a former corrections officer who said he once served on a jury for a case involving Trump and Merv Griffin. He was fired by prosecutors after acknowledging that he appreciated Trump’s humor.

That man had also expressed reservations about Trump, noting that he knew relatives of the wrongly accused teenagers in the Central Park Five case — a group that Trump famously said should receive the death penalty.

Sabrina Shroff, a criminal defense attorney, said she considers the jury selection process one of the “most stressful and fun” parts of any trial.

“It’s like setting up a blind date with twelve people and hoping that the blind date will at least turn into a friendship. It’s such a roll of the dice,” she said.

Shroff said she follows her gut when choosing judges. Scrutinizing social media profiles can be challenging, she says, because what people put online “is not who they are.”

“Maybe their connections are telling,” she said. “You’re still guessing. We call the wrong way all the time. Sometimes you really think the juror was pulling for you, and then you realize he was in charge of leading the charge to get a convict.”

Shroff added, “You’re always afraid of being wrong. You misinterpreted the frown or the smile. Maybe they don’t smile at you; just thinking about a movie they saw and liked.


Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.