IF YOU WANT to serve on a criminal jury, the most important rule is this: Say as little as possible, with your words, your body language, and your appearance.
But why would you want to sit on a jury in the first place? Because in a criminal trial, if you can read and reason and resist being swayed by emotion, you will make a better juror than most of your fellow members of the community. A jury is the entity that acts as the voice of the community, and serving as a juror allows you to contribute to that voice.
You may also believe that the law under which the defendant is being prosecuted is an illegitimate use of state power. In that case, acting as a juror gives you the opportunity to exercise the power of jury nullification--finding the defendant "not guilty" regardless of whether the state has proven the accusation beyond a reasonable doubt.
This power to nullify an unjust law is as old as the institution of the jury; it's a practice rooted in the principle that a juror can and should reach whatever verdict her conscience leads her to, and that there is nothing the government, or anyone else, can do to stop her beforehand or punish her afterward. Of course, the state prefers to maintain tight control over trials. In most jurisdictions, defense lawyers are prohibited from telling juries about nullification, and judges and prosecutors will, if pressed, lie and tell jurors they may not vote to nullify. But that is all the state can do to try to stop it. Knowing the truth will keep you from being deceived.
In 23 years of criminal defense practice, I've tried more than 40 cases before juries that I've picked, plus assisted and watched many more lawyers' jury selections. I've made a study of the psychology and social dynamics of the process and taught the science and practice of it to countless lawyers across the country. I've learned that getting onto a jury to nullify illegitimate laws is easier when you understand the game that judges and attorneys are playing.
YOU ARE AN intelligent, opinionated person who wants to share with your fellow citizens the fact that they have the power to follow their consciences in arriving at a verdict. This is admirable. But if you succumb to the temptation to do so during jury selection, your chances of being chosen drop to nil.
We call the process of turning a group of community members into a jury of six or 12 "jury selection," but it is, by necessity, actually jury deselection. Each party can eliminate from the jury pool any person who has a bias for or against the defendant or a bias against any of the laws that are applicable to the case (this is a "challenge for cause"). Then each side can eliminate from the jury pool a fixed number of people for any reason at all, as long as that reason is not some form of proscribed discrimination (this is a "peremptory challenge"). The jury is the first dozen people (or half-dozen, in a misdemeanor case) remaining after both sides have exercised their challenges.
Lawyers find bias, and other reasons to strike jurors, in the things candidates...