Jury Selection Controversy: Prosecutors Criticize ADHD, Effective Altruism Voir Dire Questions in Bankman-Fried Trial
Sam Bankman-Fried’s legal team and federal prosecutors are clashing over what can be asked of potential jurors before his trial begins next month. The defense and prosecution submitted dueling proposed questions on Thursday, with each side accusing the other of trying to inappropriately sway the jury pool.
SBF Team, Prosecutors Spar Over Voir Dire Questions
In a recent court proposal, Sam Bankman-Fried‘s attorneys asked to query prospective jurors on topics ranging from their views on cryptocurrencies to whether any have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) like their client. Prosecutors shot back in a 4-page letter, arguing the defense’s suggested questions were “unnecessary and time-consuming” and risked tainting the jury pool against the government’s case.
The legal tussle highlights how both sides aim to tip the scales in their favor even before Bankman-Fried’s high-profile trial gets underway. Jury selection is slated to start on October 3 for the case against the FTX founder, who stands accused of perpetrating one of the biggest financial frauds in U.S. history.
Bankman-Fried’s lawyers asked to question potential jurors on whether they have “completely ignore[d]” pre-trial publicity and if their client would be at a “disadvantage” given media coverage of his alleged $8 billion scheme. Prosecutors called those types of open-ended questions about publicity “unnecessarily intrusive” and argued jurors simply need to attest they can be impartial.
The defense also proposed asking if jurors or their loved ones have ADHD like Bankman-Fried, saying it could affect their “perceptions” of his “physical behavior” and “body language” at trial. But the government countered that Bankman-Fried is medicated for ADHD and claimed he has a history of “using behavioral eccentricity to his advantage.” U.S. attorney Damian Williams wrote:
The description of the potential visible symptoms of ADHD is both vague and expansive and invites the defendant to disrupt the trial under the guise of exhibiting symptoms of ADHD. This is of particular concern given the defendant’s prior efforts to use behavioral eccentricity to his advantage.
Additionally, Bankman-Fried’s team sought to ask about jurors’ views on “effective altruism” – the philosophy that gaining wealth can maximize one’s ability to help humanity. Prosecutors alleged that the question improperly advances a “defense narrative” of Bankman-Fried as a do-gooder. Williams stated:
These questions are a thinly veiled attempt to advance a defense narrative that the defendant was simply ‘amassing wealth’ in order to ‘improve the world.’
In their objection letter, federal prosecutors asked that the court rely primarily on their “standard, neutral” set of proposed questions for voir dire. Those include asking potential jurors if they know Bankman-Fried or worked in crypto, and if they can impartially weigh evidence from cooperators against the FTX founder.
Jury selection is expected to take up to two weeks for Bankman-Fried’s trial. The 30-year-old founder faces up to 115 years in prison if convicted on fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering charges for allegedly looting customer deposits to plug losses at his hedge fund, Alameda Research. He has pleaded not guilty.
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