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LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE: An Outline for Conducting Post-Trial Interviews

by Susan E. Jones, Ph. D.


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Preparation

A. Establish the purpose(s) of the interviews.
Are you interested in investigating possible misconduct or obtaining general feedback in preparation for future trials on the same issue.

B. Ascertain the local rules of court.
Courts vary on the rules about contacting jurors. Be sure you research this issue carefully before proceeding.

C. Choose the right person to conduct the interviews.
The interviewer should be someone other than the attorney who conducted the trial in order to avoid introducing bias into interviews. Ideally, he or she would be someone who was not too closely tied to the case and will be relatively objective. The interviewer should avoid telling the juror on whose behalf the interview is being undertaken until after the interview is completed. Most jurors will agree to the interview, if they are assured that they will be told at the end of the discussion who requested it. If necessary, the interviewer can explain to the juror why he or she prefers to discuss this at the end of the interview by stating, "I want you to feel free to give your opinions on a number of topics. It is usually most helpful if we wait until the end of the interview to talk about who will be getting the feedback." In practice, this is not a very big issue. Most jurors are satisfied with the explanation of the importance of their remaining naive.

D. Deciding who to interview.
The most important jurors to interview are the "persuaders" - the three or four most verbal (influential) people on the panel. These individuals are usually the most willing to voice their opinions to an attentive listener. Next, seek out "participants," - those who were undoubtedly talkative during deliberations, but probably weren't the leaders or coalition builders. Don't waste time contacting "non-participants."

E. Setting up the interviews.
An effective strategy for eliciting cooperation from jurors is to have the interviewer on hand in the courtroom to meet jurors after they are excused from their service. The interviewer can quickly approach jurors and ask for permission to call and ask for jurors' phone numbers. This brief introduction facilitates future contact and saves hours of tracking down jurors' contact information later. The interviewer should then initiate contact about a week after the trial. This gives jurors time to unwind, but not enough time to exhaust their desire to talk about the trial. Most jurors enjoy the opportunity to have someone's undivided attention as they recount their experiences on jury duty.

F. How and where to conduct interviews.
Telephone interviews are certainly the most efficient method of conducting interviews, but much can be gained from face-to-face interviews. Jurors will almost always permit recording of the interview, which is very helpful for the interviewer.

  1. 1. Preparation
  2. 2. The Interview
  3. 3. Ending the Interview