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Simple Jury Persuasion: Facts do not believers make

Friday, September 18, 2009
posted by Rita Handrich

InterestingFactsMany from the Baby Boomer generation recall Sgt. Joe Friday’s words on the TV show Dragnet: “Just the facts, ma’am”. And we can’t count the number of times we’ve heard from attorneys that their “facts are persuasive” and they just need to “tell jurors the facts”. It sounds good. Unfortunately, it often isn’t enough.

If you’ve been reading our blawg for awhile, you may have picked up that we are firm believers in using values and beliefs that resonate with jurors to tell your story. Yes, facts are important. The problem is that your facts may be heard differently by jurors than you intend.

Jurors may hear the facts and attribute motivations to your client that exist nowhere but in jurors’ minds. It can be a scary thing for litigators. When jurors in mock trials begin to discuss their theories of conspiracy or collusion based in intuition and hunches—litigators look distinctly green in the dim lighting of the observation room.

Simple Jury Persuasion Rule 2: Facts do not believers make

Many of us have seen the famous Clarence Darrow article on jury selection by identification of religious affiliation, gender and/or ethnicity. This sample quote is but one of what we would now consider egregious assumptions:

Beware of the Lutherans, especially the Scandinavians; they are almost always sure to convict. Either a Lutheran or Scandinavian is unsafe, but if both in one, plead your client guilty and go down the docket. He learns about sinning and punishing from the preacher, and dares not doubt. A person who disobeys must be sent to hell; he has God’s word for that.”.

Clarence Darrow was a brilliant attorney. But (ahem) some of his ideas translate over the years better than others. And one of them beautifully illustrates the perspective behind our Simple Jury Persuasion Rule 2:

“Don’t merely give the jury reasons to acquit your client. Make them want to acquit him (sic) and they will find the reasons.”

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