Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Juror’s Search for Understanding Bumps Her Off Panel

Recently, a juror in the Ronald Woodard murder trial was removed from the panel after she brought to court a glossary of legal terms she found online. Throughout the trial Jackson County Circuit Judge John McBain had cautioned jurors not to research or read anything in relation to the case, not even to look up a term in the dictionary.

What is wrong with this picture? Why should the juror be penalized for something that is essentially the lawyers' failing – for whatever reason – to do their job in regards to the jurors? Perhaps the lawyers indeed defined their terms adequately in this case, and the juror was being compulsive, but in truth, I have found repeatedly that lawyers forget how much of their communication is legalese, and how many words have a different meaning in ordinary conversation.

Take negligence, for example. To many lay persons, being negligent has an aspect of deliberateness about it. You know you should put your seat belt on, but you don’t, you’re negligent. So if the surgeon didn’t mean to leave the sponge in the person, it’s probably not negligence. Another example: Lawyers refer to memorializing things. To a lay person, that often means some kind of memorial was created, like a statue or special edict. To opine is frequently confused with “to pine” as in “lament.” I could go on . . .

Bottom line: define your terms, use words your fifteen year old can easily understand and use in a sentence. The jurors will not only thank you for it, they’re more likely to favor your interpretation of the case. After all, it’s the one they understood.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if she would have been kicked off if she had brought along a legal dictionary. There doesn't seem to be any harm in bringing that in if the attorneys are using a lot of legalese with little explanation. However, since she went online and searched terms, who is to say whether or not she searched for the defendant?