Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Valuable Lessons From the Vicky Pryce Trial

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.

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