Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not A Passive Jury Anymore

Sitting sedately in the jury box, jurors appear to be a captive, passive audience, receptive to the lawyers’ and witnesses’ every utterance. Would it were so. Jurors are hardly passive these days. They are informed and have opinion on a broad range of matters, even if mostly at a superficial “news caption” level.

After all, most jurors have access to and use--some obsessively--every social networking platform available, to speak to each other. They refer to blogs, media outlets, and other venues to converse, compare and discuss everything from the latest sports-figure scandal to the effectiveness of our overseas troops to the political impact of Ms. Palin’s eye-roll. It is a mistake to believe this is a habit exercised only by the young. Every age group now twitters, facebooks and blogs, with the possible exception of the very elderly. Notice, I say “possible.”

Juror patience with the often excruciating minutiae of evidence is poor. They get their information and communicate in micro-bites. The one complaint I hear over and over in jury debriefings is “Get to the point!” Jurors are willing to pay attention to and attempt to understand the evidence that supports your point – once you get there. Too often, a lawyer will lay out such a meticulous foundation that by the time the lawyer gets to the reason for all that effort, the jurors don’t care. Certainly, foundation must be laid, but whenever possible, start with an “umbrella sentence” that clues the jurors in to your point, so they are oriented, and therefore patient, with what follows.

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