23 September 2013

Impressions From A Jury Trial

I spent the last week representing someone in a jury trial.  A few impressions from that experience:

* Overall, the process is very similar to the way jury trials were conducted in Abraham Lincoln's day, with the singular recent innovation that juries can now pose questions to witnesses.  He could have walked into the court with only minimal additional legal knowledge and done just fine.  Even the legal theories I relied on in the case are mostly that old (a few civil procedure nuances related to notice pleading changed a bit in the 1930s as did a fair amount of terminology).

* The fact that the rules of evidence carefully limit what facts a jury may consider is a long standing issue of debate in legal theory.  Less discussion have been given to the pros and cons of "TMI" (too much information) in jury instructions.  Generally, courts and lawyers in jury trials focus on establishing something close to a minimum decision set of legal rules for juries with very little context for the rules that they are to apply to this particular case.  It is not at all obvious, however, that this philosophy has the same utility as the philosophy about allowing only relevant evidence that meets other gatekeeper tests to be considered.  At what point does excess, accurate legal knowledge every actually create a risk of harmful error?

* Jury pools, in my experience, tend to be disproportionately female, especially after jurors are dismissed for cause and hardship.  Assuming that this is the reality, does that make our court system fundamentally gynocentric?  If it does, is that a bad thing, a good thing, or an irrelevant thing?

* Conventional wisdom holds that juries do not mechanically apply the law set forth in the jury instructions to the admitted evidence without considering other factors.  Psychology tends to support a model in which people decide the case first in a gestalt way and then justify their gut instinct after the fact.  Assume that this is true.  Is it more good than bad, or more bad than good, and is this an important reason for the privacy of jury deliberations?

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