Written by guest blogger Karen Steinhauser, trial lawyer and owner of The Law Office of Karen Steinhauser LLC, which focuses primarily in the area of criminal defense and family law.
Why is the public so fascinated with celebrity sports trials? Throughout the years, we have followed the trials of O.J. Simpson, the almost trial of Kobe Bryant, and the trial of Aaron Hernandez. If we the public are so fascinated by it, the question always comes to my mind of whether a defendant’s celebrity status affects jurors, either consciously or unconsciously. In other words, does the celebrity status make the burden of proof higher for prosecutors, or do jurors hold the celebrities to a higher standard than they would a non-celebrity sports figure?
I don’t believe that juror bias towards Simpson resulted in a not guilty verdict. I believe it had to do jury selection and mistakes by the prosecutors.
With the Kobe Bryant case, the issues centered more around the type of case it was than any bias for or against Kobe Bryant.
With the Aaron Hernandez case, it appeared that jurors looked at this case as with any other homicide.
So regardless of whether we have learned anything specific, what we do know is that there is more likely to be a lot of publicity in these types of cases that can impact jurors and witnesses, thereby affecting the outcome of the trial. It is particularly important in jury selection to address the issue of juror bias for or against these athletes during the jury selection process. It is important to remember that the bias that people have when it comes to athletes may not necessarily be one in an athlete’s favor for any number of reasons, including a perception of the athlete making too much money or coming across as too entitled.
Jury questionnaires should be a must when the defendant is a sports figure, including open-ended questions asking whether the particular juror is familiar with the individual and what his feelings are about that person, before and after he became aware of the charges involved. These questions should include whether the juror has ever gone to a game where the defendant was playing, watched it on TV, owns jerseys or other items with the person’s name on it, or has received an autograph from that individual.
On the other hand, to ensure a fair trial for the defendant, it may also be important to include on the questionnaire questions about how the juror feels about sports in general, or this particular sport or athletes, ensuring that jurors don’t end up on the jury who have biases against the sports celebrity defendant.
Besides the questionnaires, it is important during the voir dire process to pay attention to which jurors seems to be spending too much time staring at the defendant as opposed to being involved in the voir dire process. This also may seem to signal a bias either for or against the defendant.
Unfortunately, chances are that we will continue to see sports celebrity figures end up in the criminal justice system because celebrity status certainly doesn’t make someone immune from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, making bad choices, or being targeted for a crime he didn’t commit.
by Andrea Doneff and Abraham P. Ordover
Alternatives to Litigation was first published in 1993 when alternate dispute resolution practice was in its infancy. Now in its Third Edition, this book reflects the growth in this field and also the growing interest and in some states mandatory use of ADR.
Authors Andrea Doneff and Abraham Ordover explore key concepts and terms, and address practical how-to issues that all attorneys need to recognize and master regardless of their field of expertise. Alternatives to Litigation includes appendices providing sample agreements, checklists, a model standard of conduct, commentary on ethical issues, and other useful resources.
About the Authors
Andrea Doneff is an associate professor and Director of the Legal Skills and Professionalism Program at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, where she teaches courses on ADR, Mediation, Legal Writing, Civil Procedure, and Transactional Drafting. Ms. Doneff writes in the area of arbitration and negotiation. She has been mediating and arbitrating for over twenty years, concentrating on business litigation including contracts, franchise, and employment matters
Abraham P. Ordover founded Resolution Resources Corporation. While in practice he mediated over 1,500 cases. Though he mediated a wide variety of cases, his specialty was complex, often multiparty disputes involving business, government and other parties. His work in superfund cases was national in scope and usually involved billions of dollars in dispute. He retired from active practice in 2011. A graduate of Syracuse University and Yale Law School, Mr. Ordover practiced as a litigator before becoming a law professor in 1971. He taught at Hofstra University Law School and Emory until 1991 when he founded Resolution Resources and engaged in full time dispute resolution. He served as Northeast Regional Director of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and was a member of its national faculty for many years.
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