Prominent local attorney gives insight on jury selection process

Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 9:43 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - 32 million people are summoned each year to be on a jury. But only about 1.5 million actually are selected to serve.

“Anybody who’s tried jury cases regularly knows that at best the presumption of innocence is on life support,” said DeRango and Cain, LLC owner Chris DeRango.

DeRango has worked as a defense attorney; and before that in the Winnebago County States Attorney’s office for nearly three decades. He says the challenge of picking a fair and impartial jury is harder than ever.

“You’re never going to get 12 neutral people. They don’t exist, or at least statistically speaking you’re not going to get 12 of them who are on the same jury. So you do your best to get rid of the people who are clearly not going to be fair. But even then sometimes your just wrong.”

DeRango says even the most experienced attorney is sometimes wrong when trying to predict what the jury’s thinking.

“Anybody who thinks hey can read a jury while the trial is ongoing is kidding themselves.”

But he says there is one pretty reliable indicator on how a jury voted. “If the jury walks out of the deliberation room and look at the defendant, they probably found him not guilty.”

All lawyers have a chance to look at the jury pool before jurors are selected, and DeRango says he takes full advantage of that opportunity.

“I like science types. I like engineers and mathematicians and doctors sometimes.” DeRango feels people in those careers may look at evidence more objectively because that’s how the scientific method works. “Because more often than not,if you get a jury to do that, you’re going to get a fair assessment of whether the State’s proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

DeRango also looks for people who have jobs that involve some sort of compassion: like social workers, therapists or people in the clergy.

“Truthfully there are prosecutors who feel like their best method is to dirty up the defendant, and make the jury not like him. We want the kind of people who are going to give grace to somebody who may not have done everything right in their life, but that isn’t evidence they did the thing they were charged with.”

While DeRango looks for signs to why a juror should be selected. He routinely gets calls from prospective jurors asking the best strategy to not get selected.

“I would say at least once every other month somebody reaches out to me and says how do I get out of this. I would venture to guess there are at least 200 people in this city who regret asking me that question because truthfully I go off on them.

DeRango feels those standing trial deserve a representative panel from the community.

“This is part of our civic duty. If that is all being part of this democracy requires of you, how dare you try to figure out a way to get out of it. If you’re called you should answer questions honestly and if you’re selected you should do your best to do your job. I don’t take that well”