It's all about bias.
Of course, not your bias -- you don't have any, right?
You'll soon see, if you take the accompanying survey. It's nearly identical to the one conducted recently in Stanislaus County, to suggest whether a Modesto man accused in a double-murder case could get a fair trial here.
Though some people readily admit that they're closed-minded, most like to think that they could weigh the evidence carefully and make a rational decision. But, often, reality and what people like to think are different things.
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Lawyers and judges question prospective jurors before a trial to help reveal biases that people may not know they have. The questioning comes during what is called "voir dire," French for "to speak the truth" -- the process of examining members of the jury pool to see if they are qualified and suitable to serve.
If the judge doesn't like an answer, he or she can dismiss a prospective juror. Attorneys on both sides can use peremptory challenges to accomplish the same thing, without giving a reason.
When a crime draws more attention than usual, courts and lawyers often survey the community before starting jury selection. Carefully worded questions can help determine whether the mood against a defendant is so strong that open-minded jurors are not likely to be found, in which case a trial can be moved.
Such surveys usually are conducted at random by telephone. A standard response is 400 people, experts say.
Now take a few minutes to answer the questions in this survey. Come back for grading when you're through.
How did you do?
If you answered no to either A or B, that's it. You have to be at least 18 and live in Stanislaus County to serve on a jury in Modesto.
If you answered no to both C and D, you aren't eligible because court officials draw potential jurors only from lists of voters or people with driver's licenses. If you answered yes to either one, keep going.
Question 5 tells you the subject of the survey: the disappearance of a pregnant woman from her Modesto home, and the subsequent arrest of her husband on charges of killing his wife and their unborn child. Questions 9 and 10 tell you husband and wife's names for the first time, just in case you didn't know.
If you answered yes on question 11, you're done. Lawyers on either side don't like putting a verdict in the hands of closed-minded people.
Friday afternoon, while walking in downtown Modesto, Peterson's lead attorney, Mark Geragos, peered at drivers and pedestrians and mused out loud that only a fraction of them hadn't made up their minds about his client.
Peterson has pleaded not guilty to two murder charges, one for his wife and one for their unborn son, Conner. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Back to the survey: Any answer to question 12 probably will keep you off the jury as well.
Most people think that they can be fair, and they answer yes to question 13. If not, you're off the jury.
Question 14 is similar to 11. Lawyers simply want jurors who haven't prejudged anything.
For much the same reason, any answer to question 16 will get you tossed.
Question 17 is important to prosecutors because they want the death penalty for Peterson. If your commitment to "life in prison without possibility of parole" is absolute or almost absolute, you aren't what they want.
Obviously, the first and fourth sections of this survey -- screening and opinion questions -- are key to whether you're fit for jury duty in the Peterson case.
The second section, "American Justice," is important as well to judges and lawyers, and there are right and wrong answers. Basic tenets of our legal system demand that defendants be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for a guilty verdict, and require the government to prove guilt -- not the accused to prove innocence.
Media coverage target of survey
Actual subjects of the real survey conducted in May were given an extra round of questions not found here. The survey taker asked: "Tell me what you remember about this case," and let the respondents ramble.
The last part of this survey -- "Alleged Fact Recognition" -- was designed to help determine the saturation of media coverage of this case.
So, how did the actual survey turn out?
Briefly, a combined 75 percent of people surveyed said they had decided whether Peterson was guilty, what his sentence should be or both.
Anything more than about 33 percent suggests that he can't get a fair trial in Modesto, said the survey's coordinator, Stephen Schoenthaler, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Stanislaus.
Other key findings:
62 percent of the people surveyed had prejudged guilt or innocence.
59.3 percent said they thought Peterson was probably guilty or guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
69 percent had prejudged the sentence.
Of those, 51 percent said they thought he deserved the death penalty.
100 percent recognized the names of both Scott and Laci Peterson.
The local survey of 150 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percent.
For comparison, Schoenthaler questioned 80 people in Los Angeles County in a survey with a margin of error of plus or minus 11 percent.
Though people in Los Angeles were well aware of the high-profile case, that survey suggested a much lower "depth of conviction." Only 10 percent said they thought Peterson was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, compared with 24 percent in Stanislaus County.
That suggested, Schoenthaler said, that Peterson could get a fair trial somewhere else.
His attorneys reaffirmed last week that they will seek to move the trial before it starts.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or email@example.com.