Harvey Weinstein’s trial is about to start-and is facing challenges for its jury selection process.
The former Hollywood producer is accused of five charges, including rape and predatory assault relating to two alleged victims, and 12 jurors from New York will determine whether or not he is guilty.
The jury selection started on Thursday, when jury summonses were sent to 2,000 New Yorkers. It was disclosed that 62 potential jurors have been dismissed, including supermodel Gigi Hadid.
Hadid, 24, revealed that she had met Weinstein personally and that she still felt able to be fair and impartial were she a juror.
Dr.Jill Huntley Taylor is a trial consultant and the author of published articles in jury decision-making and jury selection in civil cases in the United States.
“While I do not know any specifics, I would suspect the defence likely moved to have her stricken for cause based on her close connection with an accuser.” Dr.Huntley Taylor said.
According to the Guardian, the defendant’s legal team released details on Wednesday about Hadid in an 87-page notion, denouncing a “carnival-like atmosphere”.
Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala notified that Hadid was friend with the actress and super model Cara Delevingne, one of the105 women who accused Weinstein of misconduct
How is the jury selection made?
Because of the high-profile nature of the case, the issue of impartiality has been raised in which Judge James has reprimanded one of the initial jurors who has been found sharing tweets about the proceedings.
The most challenging part of this jury selection is to ensure jurors remain impartial.
Out of 2000 potential jurors, only 12 suitable jurors are required, as well as six alternate jurors. The judge allocated two weeks to end the jury selection.
“Alternatives are included on juries to prevent a mistrial. Longer trials typically include more alternates than shorter trials because more time means more opportunity for something to come up for one of the jurors.” Dr.Huntley Taylor said.
“It is not likely that all 2,000 will be interviewed to reach that number. So long as a juror is deemed to be someone who can be fair and impartial to both sides, they should be qualified to sit on the jury.”
Peremptory challenge and jury selection
In a high-profile case like Weinstein’s it is more a process of elimination than an actual jury selection.
Following the #Metoo movement, many high-profile figures and members of the general public took part in the conversation, making Weinstein’s case the starting point of a new era where women can speak up about sexual harassment and rape.
The important media coverage since the scandal caused reaction from the defence team which, according to the Guardian, seized on the large proportion of potential jurors who recused themselves to argue that the trial is being conducted amid a “deluge” of adverse media publicity that will taint the trial.
The attorneys already have lengthy written questionnaires completed by the prospective jurors that give them insights into who that juror is, what they do for a living, some of their attitudes and experiences.
“To the extent the judge allows, the attorneys will be following up on those questions and interested in jurors views on issues relevant to this case.” Dr.Huntley Taylor said.
The attorneys will also be looking at the social media footprint of the prospective jurors.
“For example, have they used #MeToo or commented on issues related to this case or other cases of sexual assault? Are they activists? Is the person that presents before them different than how they present on social media and how?”
Both sides will be looking to figure out who to strike. Those peremptory challenges, or strikes, are limited in number but are otherwise discretionary.
So long as the attorneys are not striking on the basis of gender or race, they can strike jurors for virtually any other reason.
According to the law consultant, the defence will want to strike jurors who have more narrow views of consent and who are inclined to focus on power dynamics.
“The prosecution will be looking to strike jurors who see people as opportunistic and have broader views of consent. They are looking to remove jurors who tend to blame the victim or view the victims as opportunistic.”
As the jury selection continues, social media searches can be particularly valuable. It will help defining the jury’s intention for both the prosecution and the defence.
The trial will start in two weeks, and is expected to last up to two months.