A lawyer's view from the jury box.I have been a trial lawyer for 15 years, so I never expected to be chosen as a juror juror n. any person who actually serves on a jury. Lists of potential jurors are chosen from various sources such as registered voters, automobile registration or telephone directories. . But I was one of two lawyers on the jury in a recent trial. Voir dire voir dire
(Anglo-French; “to speak the truth”)
In law, the act or process of questioning prospective jurors to determine whether they are qualified and suitable for service on a jury. left the attorneys in the case little choice: The cause of action was medical malpractice Improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment of a patient by a physician, dentist, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care professional. , and many panel members reported having family or friends who had experienced it. Many other panel members were medical professionals, such as nurses and rehabilitation rehabilitation: see physical therapy. workers. Given the limited options, it may have been wise to leave two lawyers on the jury, because neither one could dominate deliberations.
Haviug appeared before the judge as a practicing lawyer, I knew him to be intelligent, fail, in control of his courtroom, and solicitous so·lic·i·tous
a. Anxious or concerned: a solicitous parent.
b. Expressing care or concern: made solicitous inquiries about our family. of the jury. The attorneys trying the case were experienced, effective, and dedicated to their clients. What follows is not intended as any criticism of them. Rather, my observations are offered as a litigator's view from the jury box.
Based on my own perceptions and other jurors' comments during our eight-hour deliberation deliberation n. the act of considering, discussing, and, hopefully, reaching a conclusion, such as a jury's discussions, voting and decision-making.
DELIBERATION, contracts, crimes. . I am convinced that some of the conventional wisdom regarding what persuades jurors is accurate--but much of it is simply wrong. Here are 10 dos, and an equal number of don'ts, for trial lawyers.
* Thank the jury. Jurors make real sacrifices to serve, so they take their responsibility very seriously. Most on my jury worked at their normal jobs early in the morning and after court was dismissed. Those who could not alter their work hours were acutely aware of the burdens their jury service imposed on their coworkers.
The jurors expect and deserve to be thanked: Start and end your closing argument by sincerely thanking them for their time and attention. They will definitely notice if you forget to do so.
* Use demonstrative LEGACY, DEMONSTRATIVE. A demonstrative legacy is a bequest of a certain sum of money; intended for the legatee at all events, with a fund particularly referred to for its payment; so that if the estate be not the testator's property at his death, the legacy will not fail: but be payable exhibits. I no longer believe that jurors decide cases based on opening statements. By the third day of this eight-day trial, I had forgotten everything said in the openings. During our deliberations, not one juror mentioned anything connected with the opening statements. The models and simple charts the lawyers used in their openings, however, remained fixed in my mind. Despite my years of trial experience, the visual evidence made more impact on me than other evidence. Keep the charts simple; a complex time line referenced several times was too detailed to make an impression, and we never considered it during our deliberations.
* Use an outline of the witness testimony. Time is the jury's principal preoccupation. Will the trial really last the predicted eight days or, worse, go longer? How long will our presence be required each day? How long until the recess? How long will the recess continue? (Long recesses while the lawyers debated evidentiary ev·i·den·tia·ry
1. Of evidence; evidential.
2. For the presentation or determination of evidence: an evidentiary hearing.
Adj. 1. matters with the court were particularly frustrating frus·trate
tr.v. frus·trat·ed, frus·trat·ing, frus·trates
a. To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire; thwart: because we believed these matters should have been addressed before the jury was impaneled.) One lawyer presented a brief outline, on a flip chart flip chart
A chart consisting of sheets hinged at the top that can be flipped over to present information sequentially.
Noun 1. , of the testimony by a particularly important expert witness. We found this chart helpful and comforting: It gave us a guide to where the witness was in his lengthy testimony and areas he had yet to cover.
* Watch witnesses' posture. A witness's nonverbal non·ver·bal
1. Being other than verbal; not involving words: nonverbal communication.
2. Involving little use of language: a nonverbal intelligence test. behavior is far more important than I had realized. A witness who slouches, leans back, displays an arrogant or aggressive posture, or seems too comfortable on the stand gives the impression that he or she does not perceive the matter as important.
While we believed that all the witnesses were telling the truth as they saw it, we determined whether to credit a witness based on overall demeanor almost as much as on spoken words. Obvious nervousness was not a detriment.
When you prepare a witness to testify, emphasize that posture is important.
* Introduce parties and witnesses. Perhaps one reason I forgot what was said in the opening is that I was distracted by my curiosity about the various people in the courtroom. Neither the plaintiffs nor the defendants were seated at counsel table in the small courtroom. Most of the witnesses were experts from out of state who commanded very large fees, so it would have been impractical to have them present during openings. But at least the principals should be introduced.
* Keep each witness's testimony short. Regardless of the witness's credentials and credibility, after about an hour we were bored, and it was a struggle to keep listening closely. Perhaps our sound-bite society has given us all short attention spans--or the overheated o·ver·heat
v. o·ver·heat·ed, o·ver·heat·ing, o·ver·heats
1. To heat too much.
2. To cause to become excited, agitated, or overstimulated.
v.intr. , crowded courtroom and repetitious rep·e·ti·tious
Filled with repetition, especially needless or tedious repetition.
repe·ti testimony affected our attentiveness. The lawyers were not succinct suc·cinct
adj. suc·cinct·er, suc·cinct·est
1. Characterized by clear, precise expression in few words; concise and terse: a succinct reply; a succinct style.
2. , perhaps for fear of leaving out something crucial. Both direct and cross-exams were too long. Keeping it short is a far better way to hold the jury's attention.
* Make important points up front. The theories of primacy and recency--which I had long believed were equally important in the art of persuasion--did not work as I assumed they would. The primary principle suggests that it is more advantageous to bring out important points at the beginning of a presentation since first impressions have a stronger; more permanent impact on listeners. The recency theory asserts that it is better to save the best evidence until the end of a presentation because listeners will remember better and longer what they have heard most recently.
We jurors remembered the first points witnesses made, but by the end of their testimony, we were no longer concentrating as well. Moreover, since there was generally no signal that witnesses were close to the end of their testimony, points made toward the end were often lost on us. The same held true for opening statements and closing arguments.
* Be aware that the verdict form will guide deliberations. Throughout the trial, we were curious about exactly what we would be asked to decide. We first saw the special verdict special verdict n. the jury's decisions or findings of fact with the application of the law to those facts left up to the judge, who will then render the final verdict. form during closing arguments. It framed our deliberations--we considered the questions in order, first through last.
Because the verdict form will guide the jury's discussion, craft the document carefully. Display it during closing, and tell the jurors how you believe the questions should be answered.
* Focus on the jury instructions Jury instructions are the set of legal rules that jurors must follow when the jury is deciding a civil or criminal case. Jury instructions are given to the jury by the judge, who usually reads them aloud to the jury. . While the most important document affecting our deliberations was the verdict form, the court's instructions were by far the most important factor in our decision. We believed that the jury instructions compelled the result we ultimately reached. We had taken an oath to follow the law as the court gave it to us, and we were determined to do out civic duty. Whenever a question arose during our deliberation, we consulted the jury instructions. Assume that the jury will read the instructions and do its very best to understand and follow them.
The next most important thing to our deliberations was what the witnesses said and how their testimony coincided with the jury instructions. Although we took notes and occasionally referred to them during deliberations, we had virtually unanimous recollections of what the witnesses had said without consulting our notes. Yet we managed to find a way to discount a credible witness's testimony if it did not fit neatly with our overall view of the evidence. We reviewed only a few of the documents in evidence, and they had little impact on our decision.
* Understand that jurors will advocate. During the trial's interminable in·ter·mi·na·ble
1. Being or seeming to be without an end; endless. See Synonyms at continual.
2. Tiresomely long; tedious.
in·ter recesses, we talked about our jobs, our families, and other matters, but never about events in the courtroom. Because we felt we knew each other by the time we began our deliberations, that process was relatively congenial con·gen·ial
1. Having the same tastes, habits, or temperament; sympathetic.
2. Of a pleasant disposition; friendly and sociable: a congenial host.
But despite our most conscientious efforts to remain impartial, a few hours into the deliberations in this close case, jurors became advocates for their positions. Our group relied principally on facts and logic in explaining our respective views to each other. Do not assume that the most educated jury members are the most articulate or persuasive: The blue-collar worker blue-collar worker n → obrero/a
blue-collar worker n → ouvrier/ère col bleu
blue-collar worker n → on our jury was among the most eloquent in explaining and justifying his opinions.
After finally reaching a 10-2 decision on the most difficult issues of liability, we moved on to consider damages. However, one of the two dissenting jurors spent little time participating in this discussion. Instead, she again reviewed the jury instructions to convince herself that she could join in the majority's position. It was apparent that she was uncomfortable siding with the other dissenting juror against the majority.
We were well aware of out state's limitation on medical malpractice awards. But we did not know whether the damages cap applied only to pain and suffering or to the entire amount of damages or whether the lawyers had already taken the cap into consideration. We also had no idea what the monetary cap actually was in our state. So, following the jury instructions, we did not concern ourselves with the effect of our verdict. Although we made no attempt to "split the difference," after we had reached our verdict, we speculated that neither side was likely to be pleased with it.
* Do not appeal to common sense. I was surprised at the vehement reactions to one attorney's suggestion, in his closing argument, that we jurors should rely on our common sense. The more intelligent members of the jury were insulted because we interpreted that advice as condescending, as implying that we were probably not able to understand the complex medical testimony. Others, however, took the remark as a license to ignore both the judge's instructions and the witnesses' testimony and just "go with our gut." While I am certain the lawyer did not intend either message, our reactions were surprisingly strong.
* Do not rely on cross-examination. I had believed that cases are often won or lost on cross-examination. That may happen, but after my jury experience, I believe it is rare. During our deliberations, no juror ever brought up points made during cross-examination. I remember none of them. The cross-examination mainly seemed to provide an opportunity for the various expert witnesses to repeat and emphasize their direct testimony.
* Do not use depositions to impeach To accuse; to charge a liability upon; to sue. To dispute, disparage, deny, or contradict; as in to impeach a judgment or decree, or impeach a witness; or as used in the rule that a jury cannot impeach its verdict. . Impeachment impeachment, formal accusation issued by a legislature against a public official charged with crime or other serious misconduct. In a looser sense the term is sometimes applied also to the trial by the legislature that may follow. is ineffective. During the trial, I grew to dread the phrase, "Let's look at your deposition" because it meant another lengthy detour in the testimony--and little else. As a lawyer, I could generally understand why counsel thought impeachment was important. But as a juror prepared to believe that all the witnesses were telling the truth as they saw it, I felt that what they said in deposition was so similar to what they had said at trial that the lawyers had just wasted everyone's precious time.
* Do not try to humanize hu·man·ize
tr.v. hu·man·ized, hu·man·iz·ing, hu·man·iz·es
1. To portray or endow with human characteristics or attributes; make human: humanized the puppets with great skill.
2. witnesses. Jurors realize that their task is crucial to the jury system. Given the extreme inconvenience they face, jurors expect to serve a worthwhile purpose. Like jokes and other attempts at levity lev·i·ty
n. pl. lev·i·ties
1. Lightness of manner or speech, especially when inappropriate; frivolity.
2. Inconstancy; changeableness.
3. The state or quality of being light; buoyancy. , efforts to "humanize" witnesses fall flat and are considered offensive. We did not care what weight class the neurosurgeon neurosurgeon
a physician who specializes in neurosurgery.
neurosurgeon A surgeon specialized in managing diseases of the brain, spine and peripheral nerves Meat & potatoes diseases Brain tumors, spinal cord disease Salary $245K + 15% bonus. wrestled at in college, or that the office manager loves dogs. Jurors understand that their duty is to decide the issues based on the facts. We were offended of·fend
v. of·fend·ed, of·fend·ing, of·fends
1. To cause displeasure, anger, resentment, or wounded feelings in.
2. when the attorneys elicited irrelevant information, because it wasted valuable time and trivialized the process.
* Do not assume that because jurors are taking notes, you have made a point. We were quite pleased that the court permitted us to take notes, and we took them carefully at the outset. I had always assumed that when a juror took notes, I had scored a particular point. Not true. Several jurors (including me) confessed that we took the most copious co·pi·ous
1. Yielding or containing plenty; affording ample supply: a copious harvest. See Synonyms at plentiful.
2. notes when we felt sleepy or confused--note-taking was just a device to help us remain alert. Rather than persuading the jury, you may simply be boring them intolerably.
* Do not be concerned about objections. I long believed that objecting during opening or closing was a cardinal sin--that juries resent re·sent
tr.v. re·sent·ed, re·sent·ing, re·sents
To feel indignantly aggrieved at.
[French ressentir, to be angry, from Old French resentir, the interruption and consider objections during opening (unless they are absolutely necessary to establish grounds for a mistrial A courtroom trial that has been terminated prior to its normal conclusion. A mistrial has no legal effect and is considered an invalid or nugatory trial. It differs from a "new trial," which recognizes that a trial was completed but was set aside so that the issues could be ) rude and uncivil. Wrong.
It did not seem rude for the lawyers to object during opening. In fact, the jury was dismissed while the attorneys argued the objections made during opening. The unexpected recess did not seem to disrupt the flow at all.
I did not expect evidentiary objections to bother me because, after all, I practice under those same rules of evidence. But the objections did not appear to have an impact on any of the jurors, all of whom sensed that rules were part of the proceeding and discounted the interruptions as merely part of the process.
* Do not attack the integrity of the opposing attorney. The jury did not appear to care that the opposing lawyer wrote the first draft of an expert's report, or that a witness was paid or discussed his testimony with the lawyer. The jury sensed that this sort of thing is customary. Attempts to discredit TO DISCREDIT, practice, evidence. To deprive one of credit or confidence.
2. In general, a party may discredit a witness called by the opposite party, who testifies against him, by proving that his character is such as not to entitle him to credit or opposing counsel seemed like children squabbling over something petty; the jurors simply wanted to move on to important matters.
* Do not forget that there is life outside the courtroom. While we attorneys are in court, all our thoughts and energy are devoted exclusively to the trial. We tend to shut out the outside world--but the jury does not. During the too-long, too-frequent recesses, jurors have little to do but read newspapers and magazines, so they are probably more aware of current events than they normally might be.
It was embarrassing, but not critical to the verdict, when one attorney attempted to cross-examine a damages witness about the outstanding return of an investment fund, on the very day that headlines reported the fund was in serious trouble. The attorney did not seem to notice that the jury was atwitter a·twit·ter
Being in a state of nervous excitement; twittering: a crowd atwitter with expectation. when he began making his point, which may have been valid once but was no longer.
* Do not assume that the jury has made up its mind. The court repeatedly cautioned us not to form any opinions until we heard all the evidence. I had never really believed that this cautionary instruction was effective. Wrong again.
Following that advice was far easier than I thought it would be, and our deliberations showed that the other jurors obeyed as well. In our prized time outside the courtroom, we were usually on our cell phones or working, which left little time to mull over mull over
to study or ponder: he mulled over the arrangements [probably from muddle]
Verb 1. the testimony. More important, to be proud of our job, we had to be fair, which meant keeping an open mind until we had heard everything.
* Do not overreach overreach
the error in a fast gait when the toe of a hindhoof of a horse strikes and injures the back of the pastern of the leg on the same side.
overreach boot . Jurors expect lawyers to treat the opposing party's witness fairly. If you ask the witness a question to which he or she could not know the answer, or attack the witness, the jury will hold it against you, not the witness.
A brilliant closing argument cannot overcome a lack of evidence. Throughout the trial, we listened, we watched, we took notes, and we knew what happened in the courtroom. If you do not accurately describe or review the evidence, jurors will know. Because the judge warned us, several times, that what the lawyers say is not evidence, we generally discounted their arguments.
One last bit of advice: Accept jury service if the opportunity arises. Putting yourself on the other side of the jury box is a priceless price·less
1. Of inestimable worth; invaluable.
2. Highly amusing, absurd, or odd: a priceless remark. experience. Not only will it provide insights for your own practice, it will also certainly generate a renewed respect for our jury system.
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