Thursday, May 16, 2013
I had the privilege of being part of Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly's annual luncheon honoring jurors who served in his courtroom over the past year. About 70 jurors were in attendance. The luncheon is a way for the judge to show his appreciation for the hard work and sacrifice jurors make to our judicial process and to society. What's more, the event spreads goodwill for the courts and more reason for people to say yes to jury service.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
The Vicky Pryce and Chris Huhne trials, featuring, per the New York Times “a leading politician, his extramarital affair, a speeding ticket, his now-divorced wife and her decision to wreak her revenge” finally ended mid-March with both Pryce and Huhne being sentenced to prison.
What’s relevant to lawyers on this side of the pond, are the types of questions asked by the jurors of the Judge in the first Pryce trial. They were so basic as to astound His Honor, questions such as: “Can you define what is reasonable doubt?” and “Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it either from the prosecution or defense?”
To assume that the jurors are stupid or incompetent is to miss the lesson inherent in this trial: for whatever reason, the lawyers did not present the case in such a way that the jurors had answers to these basic questions.
You’d think that “reasonable doubt” was pretty easy to understand. I suspect that what the jurors failed to grasp was what were the “reasonable doubt” elements in the case. In other words, when you don’t, in closing, tie your jury instructions to the facts as you’ve presented them, you’re likely to have jurors who miss the connection. It’s up to you to connect the dots for the jurors, not assume that they will automatically do so, just because “reasonable doubt” isn’t exactly a rocket-science phrase.
As to the “Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court…” question, this is where focus groups come in very handy. Focus groups, when properly recruited and conducted as opinion gathering sessions, will tell you what are the reasons most likely to convince jurors of your case, which many times lawyers, caught up as you are in the legal aspects and minutiae of the testimony, may not be aware of.
Monday, April 1, 2013
When prospective jurors walk into the courtroom, they only know one thing for sure: The courtroom is His/Her Honor’s private reserve, and the Judge’s word is law. Everything about the physical layout of the courtroom says “In this room, the Judge is Top Dog, and whatever he/she says is set in stone.” The Judge sits higher than everyone else. All must rise upon the Judge’s entrance, and may only be seated when told to do so. And whatever the Judge says, however erudite or nonsensical it may seem, becomes “what is” in that Courtroom.
So imagine my surprise, when I observe lawyers go directly against a Judge’s “what I expect in my courtroom.” I know, from years of experience, that jurors ding any lawyer who fails to respect a Judge’s stated orders. The most common failure is the failure to respect time. The Judge says “Your mini-opening will be two minutes, no longer.” The lawyer launches into their mini-opening, the two minute mark is hit, the Judge cuts the lawyer off – sometimes, mid-word. The lawyer, hurt and surprised, sits down. The jurors look coldly at the lawyer. They heard the rule, why couldn’t the lawyer obey it?
You see, prospective jurors MUST appear when summoned, MUST be on time, MUST turn off their mobile devices, MUST sit where told to sit, and the list goes on. When the Judge tells you what you MUST do, you’re well advised to do it. Failure to do so makes you disrespectful, in the prospective jurors’ eyes, and less worthy of their consideration. Much harder to convince.
And since your jurors are within that pool of prospective jurors, abiding by the Judge’s edicts right from the git-go is the easiest, quickest way to get their approval.
Start off on the right foot with your jurors, and you’ve much better chances of ending on the right foot.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Despite the best efforts of all involved, jury instructions remain obscure and confusing to all but the most legalese-savvy jurors. Cases should be won or lost on their merits, but too often, cases are lost (or unsatisfactory verdicts obtained) because the jurors either did not understand the jury instructions, or how those jury instructions should be specifically applied to the verdict form.
Clarifying jury instructions so jurors can make their way through the verdict form fully understanding what their vote means, is important. That’s step one. But then it’s critical to move on to step two: letting the jurors know during closing argument not only how they should vote (according to you), but why.
It’s the “why” that is often left out. You need to arm the jurors already decided by your arguments with sufficient ammunition to convince the undecideds – reiterating the evidence/testimony simply isn’t enough.
“Why” consists of firmly tying specific evidence supporting your case to specific verdict questions, preferably in bullet form, which is easier for your decided-jurors to remember and use in their “Here’s why” during deliberations.
Undecided jurors are your “make it or break it” jurors, and they only make up their minds during deliberations. If you don’t give those jurors already on your side the information they need to swing the undecideds over, you leave the verdict up to chance. Or worse, up to ill-formed, confused, half-hearted attempts, for in the absence of solid rationale, what else can your decided-jurors argue?
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The question of whether to trust our logic or trust our emotions is rarely brought up in the context of legal matters, at least not from the lawyer point of view. Certainly, we discuss endlessly how this or that prospective juror’s mind-set (highly emotional versus highly rational) might impact our case, but not usually how the lawyer’s emotion would.
However, recent research by M. Pham, L. Lee and A. Stephen provides interesting insights into the positive impact lawyer emotions might have in winning cases.
In brief, their study showed that people who were more likely to trust their feelings were also more likely to accurately predict the outcome of a particular event. The researchers call this phenomenon the “emotional oracle effect.”
How does this apply to winning your case? Tune in to your emotions. If, when preparing a witness, you sense that something is “off,” don’t dismiss that because your logic tells you all is well. Trust your emotions enough to say something like “I notice that . . .” or “I’m wondering if. . .” which is a non-threatening way to probe further and take a look at whether or not what you sense with this witness has some basis in reality.
Similarly, you can review the demographics of your prospective jurors all you want and weed out the obvious “bad apples,” but when it comes down to “keep Juror A versus Juror B” – tune in to your emotions. Listen inside yourself for that intuitive hit and go with it.
Your mind is bigger than your analytic prowess. Use all of it, rational and emotive, in the service of your success.
Friday, December 28, 2012
I have long encouraged witnesses to adopt the “Power-Sit” position I developed after observing juror responses to witness body language.
Simply put, the witness sits with their rear planted firmly in the “L” of the chair, which assures good posture without having to think about it. They then are asked to avoid leaning to the left or right, and to keep their back in contact with the back of the chair at all times. The impression jurors receive from the “Power-Sit” is that of a confident, straightforward, credible witness – one whose testimony is far more likely to be believed than the testimony which issues from a witness who slumps, or leans to the left or right, or aggressively forward, to give but a few examples.
Now I’ve always known the impact of the “Power-Sit” on juries, but what I didn’t know, and science has recently discovered, is the impact of the “Power-Sit” on the witnesses themselves. According to Harvard Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s recent research, “assuming a high power pose for just two minutes before the job interview, the body would generate hormonal changes that corresponded with feeling empowered, comfortable, and less reactive to stress.” In lay-person’s language, the person him/herself experienced greater confidence, ability, and comfort.
What a platform for effective testimony! The stronger your witness feels, the more likely they are to testify well, and the better their testimony will be received.
And all it takes is a little attention to your witness’s body language.