STUDIES ABOUT HOW JURIES DECIDE CASES
The American Bar Foundation published an article about a study done in Arizona in which 50 actual civil jury deliberations were videotaped and studied. About half of the cases involved motor vehicle collisions, about 1/3 were general tort cases and the remainder were medical malpractice disputes. The awards ranged from $1000 to $2.8 million dollars.
The study began by noting that jurors are in an unfamiliar place. They are doing with people who speak and unfamiliar language. They are called upon to make an important decision. The jurors are generally aware of their important role in an adversary situation. We trial lawyers should be conscious of this fact in how we treat and communicate with the jury panel.
The many findings of this study included one lawyers should already be fully aware of. Many jurors express the feeling that counsel was being condescending. As one juror commented: “I felt like they were treating us like we were imbeciles.” The findings contained a clear message to attorneys: “never let the jurors think you are talking down to them because they are very sensitive to that. Never underestimate the jurors.
Overall, the jurors see the issues as “who do I trust, how can I figure out who’s helping me and who’s telling the truth?” Our job is to make clear why we are suing, what we expect the jury to do and to be always truthful with the jury
The findings regarding the selection of a foreperson also of interest. The study found there was a definite pattern in the selection of the foreperson. Males are more than twice as likely to be selected than females. Those who have professional or managerial background are 2 ½ times as likely be selected jurors with both of these characteristics that is, male professionals or managers are more than two times as likely to become a foreperson has jurors who lack one or both of these characteristics.
Other factors that influence who will be selected as a foreperson is a juror the other jurors observed has been taking notes during the trial. The jurors have a good sense of who’s been paying attention and tend to defer to the note takers. Another factor that predicts foreperson selection are “rule reminders.” This is the juror who reminds the other jurors what they are supposed to or not supposed to do. They are seen as knowledgeable about the jury deliberation. This is also a good reason to remind jurors of the rules in final argument. As David Ball suggests, remind the jurors of the rules by saying: “if someone brings up in the jury room this issue remind them that the judge has decided that subject is not relevant to your decision.”
The study also noted the role of what they called “embedded experts” on the jury. These are people have education, experience or qualifications more than the average person on issues involved in the case. An example would be a nurse or an attorney serving on the jury involving issues within their professional field. Study found that participation level of these jurors was higher than that of the other jurors. They saw themselves as more knowledgeable and therefore qualified then the other jurors. Clearly, a juror falls into this category is one that should be carefully considered in terms of serving on the jury.
The study reinforced what many trial lawyers were aware of and serves as a reminder to trial lawyers about jury dynamics.
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“As one juror commented: ‘ I felt like they were treating us like we were imbeciles.’ The findings contained a clear message to attorneys: ‘never let the jurors think you are talking down to them because they are very sensitive to that.’”
Trials almost always involve some technical issues. How do you make sure the jury understands technical issues without giving them the impression you are talking down to them?