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Deliberations & the role of the presiding juror

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
posted by Douglas Keene

You work hard to prepare and present your case so that your client has the best representation possible. Don’t forget to plan for a really important task: teaching the jury how to do their job effectively. Ineffective juries end up not reaching a verdict, not considering the evidence carefully, or simply not paying attention. After all the effort you have put into planning, preparing and presenting your case, don’t leave the effectiveness of your jury to chance.

Ten years ago, Arce, Farina, Novo & Seijo (1999) examined how juries fail to reach a verdict. Their work is still useful today for litigators seeking to avoid the hung jury. Here are some lessons from their research on how to help juries deliberate effectively:

  • Teach the jury about the jury charge and the questions they will be asked to consider in the jury room. Walk them through the questions and tell them the answers you would like and the evidence that you think supports those answers.
    • Hung juries have poor deliberations. They do not focus on evidence-verdict relationships and they do not attempt to integrate the evidence as they deliberate.
  • Teach the entire jury about the role of the presiding juror. Knowing the role played by that juror will help them choose well. The foreperson needs to manage deliberations so that evidence is appraised and destructive arguments avoided. All the jurors, however, can work together to ensure deliberations are respectful and civil.
    • Hung juries tend to have presiding jurors who do not know how to manage arguments or guide deliberations through the jury charge. The role of the presiding juror is truly to stimulate thought and debate; not allow the group to settle too early on a particular decision or outcome; and to encourage a focus on facts rather than opinions.

Taking the time to think through instructing the jury on how to deliberate effectively can result in a positive experience for you and for the jurors. Keep in mind that the payoff for jurors is the feeling that they have solved a problem, or made the world a better place.  A hung jury or an acrimonious deliberation is as unsatisfying for them as it is for you.  You’ve done your job thoroughly when you’ve presented the best case you can for your client and you’ve taught the jury how to do their job as well.

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