Tips To Being An Effective Juror
Burman, Critton, Luttier and Coleman LLP Blog
By Dean Xenick
Jury duty is an extremely important civic duty, as juries are essential for our court system to work effectively. If one knows what to expect and understands the great importance of jury duty, participating in the greatest court system in the world can become a rewarding experience.
Know what Judges and Attorneys expect from Jurors
Judges and attorneys have the utmost respect for jurors and the vital role they play in our court system. We know that you take time out of your busy lives to perform this essential role in justice. In order for the system to work effectively, jurors, attorneys, and judges must work together to administer justice. Thus, an effective juror must: (1) Be honest, forthcoming, and genuine; (2) Listen attentively and take good notes; (3) Ask questions if you do not understand; and (4) Listen to all the evidence prior to forming any conclusions about the case. Of course, these are general guidelines and you should always follow the rules of your specific jurisdiction, which will be explained to you by the judges and attorneys in your specific case.
Be honest, forthcoming, and genuine
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be honest and forthcoming with the judges and attorneys while performing jury duty. During Voir Dire (jury selection) you will be asked a series of questions by the attorneys and judge. Always answer honestly and disclose full answers to these questions. Failure to do so could cause a mistrial or appeal after the case has concluded. If you have a sensitive issue to discuss, ask the judge to speak privately about it, instead of sharing with the rest of the jury pool. The questions posed by the lawyers are not meant to embarrass or harass, they are asked to discover your thoughts on certain topics. Lastly, be genuine; don't try to give answers you think the attorneys or judge wants. There is no "right answer," other than what your true, honest feeling is. If you stay true to who are and give honest answers to the questions posed to you, you will do fine.
Listen attentively and take good notes
It is essential to listen to all of the evidence presented and take good notes (if allowed by the judge). Just like if you miss an important scene of a good movie, if you lose focus during essential testimony in a trial, it could completely change your take on the case. Get a good night's rest each night, so that you can listen to all of the evidence presented and don't fall asleep! If the judge allows it, take notes throughout the trial. We attorneys have countless notes that we use in preparation for and during trial, so we can't expect you to digest a 4 or 5 day trial without taking notes. Some jurisdictions also allow juror questions. If that is the case, write your questions down so you don't forget to ask.
Ask questions if you do not understand
There is no shame in asking questions. Sometimes as lawyers we get so caught up in our case that we fail to properly explain legal concepts or specific facts. If you are unsure about something, ask the judge, don't guess. As stated above, some jurisdictions allow juror questions to attorneys about the specific facts and evidence presented. Don't be afraid to use this opportunity to have testimony or evidence clarified, if you do not understand something. As attorneys, we want you to have a full understanding of the facts and evidence presented, as well as the law. So if you don't understand something, ask.
Listen to all the evidence prior to forming any conclusions about the case
In a mystery novel, at the beginning you may think one person "did it," but in the end, it is usually the person you never expected. Thus, until you get all of the information in your possession, you cannot make an informed decision. Similarly in a trial, your thoughts at the beginning of a case may make you feel one way, while at the end you may have different thoughts. Therefore, do not make any conclusions about the case until you begin your deliberations. During deliberations you can take all of the evidence together and make an informed decision. In a criminal trial, the prosecution goes first, and then the Defendant, while in a civil trial the Plaintiff goes first, again followed by the Defendant. If you have made up your mind by the end of the Prosecution/Plaintiff's case, then the Defendant is prejudiced since you have decided the case before they can present their evidence and testimony. So, listen to all of the evidence presented and do not form opinions until deliberations.