I've got a feature article in the current issue of Psychology Today. It examines the methods, efficacy, and ethics of jury selection consulting, which is sometimes branded as a science but often more closely resembles a dark art.
Legendary attorney Clarence Darrow once argued, "Almost every case has been won or lost when the jury is sworn." In the most important trend- and precedent-setting cases, attorneys leave nothing to chance. A trial of one's peers? Nah. Jury consulting rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, a significant portion of which goes to stacking the jury. Consultants stage mock trials, do drive-bys of potential jurors' homes, and enlist body-language experts to intuit potential jurors' moods, personalities, and deepest secrets. (Stealth jurors--the ones secretly plotting to push an agenda or nab a book deal--are notoriously hard to weed out.)
For this story, in addition to researchers and lawyers, I interviewed the top-dollar consultants who helped select the juries for the trials involving OJ Simpson, Scott Peterson, Rodney King, Ken Lay, Vioxx, and other big clients. One of these gurus, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, has even been personally blamed for the LA riots. Yes, the practice of jury selection is evolving, becoming more rigorous and sophisticated thanks to social scientists and statisticians, but it's still largely based on gut and chance. And sometimes all it takes is a juror with hemorrhoids to throw off your whole game.