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The Michael Jackson Trial

Toobin: Jackson juror questionnaire prejudicial

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin
On the Scene
Jeffrey Toobin
Michael Jackson

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The juror selection process in the Michael Jackson case resumes Monday when prosecutors and defense attorneys begin questioning the more than 200 potential jurors.

On Wednesday, the California court handling the child molestation trial released answers to juror questionnaires in the Michael Jackson case. CNN anchor Bill Hemmer spoke Thursday with Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst, about the significance of the questions posed to potential jurors, and the responses released by the court.

HEMMER: We're learning more about the men and women who could decide the fate of Michael Jackson. The judge in that child molestation trial has now released the answers to an eight-page questionnaire supplied by 243 prospective jurors. ... We have the Q. Now [we] have the A. What strikes you about this?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, Michael Jackson is a popular person in this county, so it seems. And one of the answers that struck me particularly was that 25 percent of the people who answered this question either had been to [the singer's ranch] Neverland or knew someone who had been to Neverland. That's a lot.

HEMMER: I think that's extraordinary.

TOOBIN: That's a lot of people, isn't it? ... [I]t's not really that big in particularly Santa Maria, which is where this trial takes place, which is the northern part of [Santa Barbara County], which is fairly close to Neverland. It shows Michael Jackson is a real figure there. He is known as ... an important local personality.

HEMMER: The other thing that's interesting, 60 percent of the potential jurors say they [have] read or heard something about the 1993 allegations against him. What do you make of that?

TOOBIN: Bill, I have seen many of these questionnaires. That was the single weirdest question I've ever seen answered.

HEMMER: Weird?

TOOBIN: Weird and I thought inappropriate, because by raising it in the question, you're telling the people who don't know about it. But you are telling the prospective jurors, hey, you know, he's suspected of doing this again. That is going to be a tightly contested issue in the trial, whether they're entitled to hear about that at all.

HEMMER: Are you suggesting there's prejudice in the question?

TOOBIN: I absolutely do, yes.

HEMMER: And are you also suggesting then the judge is perhaps inclined to allow some of that evidence into this trial?

TOOBIN: Very much. It is a signal that he is inclined to let it in. But I thought that's a silly backdoor way of doing it. Sixty percent knew about it. Forty percent didn't, but they sure know now because they read the question.

HEMMER: The other thing you remark on is how short the questionnaire was.

TOOBIN: Very strange.

HEMMER: How so?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, in the Martha Stewart trial, it was, I believe, a 30-page questionnaire. This was an eight-page questionnaire. Usually they get a lot more information. I think the person-to-person voir dire [questioning of potential jurors] is going to have to take a lot longer because a lot of these questions, you know, all they do is invite more questions.

Twenty percent of the people knew someone who had an inappropriate sexual contact made toward them. That's a lot of people. It reminded me of when I was a prosecutor when they used to ask people, "Have you ever been a victim of a crime?" I was always shocked by how many hands went up. Crime is really prevalent.

HEMMER: Do you allow them on or off?

TOOBIN: Well, it depends. You need to ask them about their experience. It could cut both ways. Usually in a detailed questionnaire, you get a little more information so you can weed people out more easily. This one just raises a lot of questions.

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