This month I am flushing the format to talk about jury duty. I recently got selected to serve on a jury in a civil case. The experience fascinated me because, as a civil trial lawyer myself, it gave me the opportunity to see a trial from a juror’s perspective in the courtroom and in the jury room. My case lasted four days. Here are several observations to keep in mind for the next time you find yourself as a party in a trial.
It is a Civic Duty
When one of your friends tells you they received a jury duty notice in the mail, it’s usually not with a joyful tone. Rather, it’s with an exasperated huff. I think there is a simple explanation for that reaction: people have a daily routine, with existing obligations, and jury duty disrupts their schedule. But once selected, my fellow jurors took their responsibility seriously. Litigants should keep in mind that jurors want to see that the parties are taking the case as seriously as they are.
Courtroom Technology: An Asset and a Liability
Today’s technology has radically changed the way litigants can present their case. One hundred years ago, parties presented their evidence through oral testimony, usually without any documentary evidence, and almost certainly without any visual aids. Now parties can show videos, photographs, and documents and can “self-edit” to show the jury what evidence is important to their side of the case. Parties should take advantage of these capabilities. Technology is a “change of pace” in the courtroom and keeps the jury attentive. While jurors take the case seriously, it is tough to sit in a chair for a couple of hours listening to a lawyer and a witness talk back and forth –especially when the lawyer is sitting in his or her chair as well. Also, some jurors may be visual learners. Putting the document up on a screen, instead of simply reading the language, may help a juror better understand your case.
A word of caution about technology in the courtroom. If you are going to use it, you need to make sure it works in the courtroom before trial starts, and you need to know how to use it. Technology problems are distracting and kill your momentum. Think of yourself as the director of a movie – you want to show the jury the final, finished product. To put it another way, follow the Scout Motto: Be Prepared.
Jury Deliberations: Behind the Curtain
When the jury goes to deliberate they are given the “jury charge,” which contains the questions they are asked to answer. The jury charge also contains instructions and legal definitions. Sometimes these questions can be complicated. Nonetheless, it is important to know that jurors will make every effort to “get it right” with their verdict. This doesn’t mean they will decide the case based on sympathy, bias or prejudice. Rather, juries seek to render a verdict that is based on a common sense assessment of the facts.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
My service has reconfirmed my belief that the jury system works. If you end up as a party in a jury trial, respect the jury’s decision no matter the outcome. And if you are selected for jury duty, thank you for your service.