Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bench vs. Jury Trials (DOJ State Civil Survey)

DOJ Study: Plaintiffs Win More Than Half of State Court Civil Trials
Plaintiffs won in more than half of state court civil trials in 2005 and were more likely to get a favorable verdict in bench than jury trials, according to a new U.S. Department of Justice report.
Plaintiffs won in 56 percent of all general civil trial cases. Judges ruled in their favor in 68 percent of the cases, while juries favored the plaintiffs 54 percent of the time. The report was released Tuesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice. The study is the first nationally representative measure of general civil bench and jury trials in state courts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jury News

Unanimous Juries and the Supreme Court
In the 1957 movie “12 Angry Men,” Henry Fonda portrayed the lone holdout on a jury charged with deciding whether a young Latino man had stabbed his father to death. Eventually, the Fonda character convinces his fellow jurors that there is reasonable doubt of the young man's guilt, and the jury acquits him. The film was a fictionalized -- even romanticized -- depiction of one of the hallmarks of the U.S. legal system: that a defendant must be convicted by a unanimous jury of his peers.

Anti-gay Potential Jurors out of Mobile Co. Trial
A Mobile County judge has rejected some anti-gay prospective jurors who declared they do not approve of the lifestyle of the cross-dressing defendant.

Court: Juror with Dreadlocks Improperly Dismissed
The South Carolina Supreme Court says an attorney's "uneasiness" over a prospective juror's dreadlocks was a racially motivated reason for striking the man from a jury in a car accident case.McCrea v. Gheraibeh

County Court Hears First Juvenile Trial
A 16-year-old girl who played tug-of-war with a police officer for control of her high school identification after he asked to see some ID became the first juvenile to be tried by a Shawnee County District Court jury on Monday. The trial of Deloress Slater was the first in Shawnee County since the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in June that juveniles have a right to a jury trial.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lawyer Joke not Enough to Prejudice the Jury

While telling lawyer jokes may offend some attorneys, they generally won't lead to a guilty verdict being overturned at least according to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Recently, that Court in U.S. v. Grullon determined that "'extraneous' material--namely a joke printed from a website making fun of the legal profession--found in the jury room after a verdict was returned," was insufficient grounds for the District Court to declare a mistrial. The Court went on to note that the joke posed no real danger of prejudicing the jury against the defendant because it had "nothing to do with the issues in the case or any more connection with one side's counsel than the other's."

For more information on the case click here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jury Problems in Senator Ted Stevens' Corruption Trial

Jury Foreman Asks That A Juror in Stevens' Trial Be Removed

The foreman of the jury in Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' corruption trial asked today that a juror be removed following "violent outbursts" with other jurors and her refusal to "follow the rules and laws" during deliberations.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

OJ Juror Questionnaire Update #4

Despite OJ's conviction, it looks like the Nevada media outlets are still going to pursue their lawsuit against the court for failing to release the juror questionnaires during the actual trial.

For more background on this issue go here or click on the case or article below.

Colby Williams, a lawyer for the AP and Stephens Media LLC, owner of the Review-Journal, said the judge was incorrect to argue the matter became moot once the trial was over.
Without guidance from the state high court, Williams said, Nevada media "will likely be subjected to orders denying access to other court proceedings in the future."

Media Challenges Judge Over OJ Jury Secrecy

Stephens Media, LLC v. Dist. Ct. (State) (52399)

Monday, October 20, 2008

County Doesn't Want to Expand Jury List

Contrary to my previous predictions, it appears at least initially that some Pennsylvania counties are not all that enamored with the new state jury lists.

County Won't Use Juror Lists
Montgomery County officials will not use an expanded list of names provided by the state to select juries in the county."What we have now works well enough so there's no need to expand the pool," said President Judge Richard J. Hodgson. "There have been no complaints that the jury pool is not appropriately assembled.""There doesn't seem to be any reason to spend the money to expand it if there is no growing need to use it. That's not to say we won't have to do it some day, but not right now," Hodgson added.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Juries or Panel of Judges

The Verdict on Juries
Like many crown prosecutors, Christopher Maxwell has reservations about the working of the jury system. "The problem with the jury trial is not just the expense but all the things that can go wrong, jurors not turning up and so on," says Maxwell. "You see juries being discharged all the time."

The NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, has set up a working group to examine, among other things, improvements to the jury system. But Maxwell's reservations go further. He is one of a few Australian lawyers with the experience to be able to compare the Anglo-Saxon adversarial legal system and the continental inquisitorial one. He spent three years with the United Nations mission in Kosovo. And that led him to ask questions about our way of doing things.

"Working with panels of judges caused me to think a lot about our jury system," he says. "These days in NSW there's a tremendous emphasis on the efficient use of resources, and the biggest saving you could get would be if you didn't have juries. That's a radical thing to say. Time and again, in any jury trial, you'll hear the judge say, 'This jury system has worked for centuries and it's sanctified', and everybody assumes it's the greatest thing...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jurors' Remarks Don't Win New Trial

Defense attorneys alleged juror misconduct in a Wednesday Charles County Circuit Court hearing that concluded when a judge denied a new trial to a Bryantown man convicted in August of murdering a 71-year-old.

The defense counsel for William Nathaniel Coates, 30, also argued the verdict in the case was contradictory, necessitating a new trial.

Coates' attorney, Tiffany Harvey, who took the stand Wednesday, testified that while she was walking in the hallway while jurors were deliberating their verdict, she overheard a juror shouting. According to Harvey, the woman yelled, "My friend told me he confessed." She also heard someone say, "He's covering for him."

To continue reading go here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Law Review Articles

Hon. Mary Ellen Barbera, The Honorable Irma S. Baker: Leading the Way Toward Clarity in Criminal Jury Instructions in Maryland, 57 Am. U. L. Rev. 1555-1559 (2008).

Professor Valerie P. Hans, Jurors in the Material World: Putting Tort Verdicts in their Social Context, 13 Roger Williams U. L. Rev. 8-38 (2008).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canadian Jury Selection--Where Looks Count

According to the article below, it appears that both Canadian and American lawyers rely on similar criteria when selecting jurors. However, I must acknowledge that this is the first time that I have ever heard of a lawyer using beauty as a criterion for jury selection. According to one Canadian lawyer, he selects at least one attractive woman for the jury so that "no matter how bad the evidence is...[he] ha[s] someone nice to look at." Would a female lawyer do the same thing?

The Inexact Art of Jury Selection
One lawyer avoids men in designer suits.

Another turns away roofers.

Some reject teachers.

With the busy trial season in full swing in downtown Toronto's Superior Court, it is also high season for the intuitive and inexact art of jury selection.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reminder: ABA Jury Symposium (Oct 16th and 17th)

The 2008 National Symposium on the American Jury System is the biannual conference on the the state of the jury system in America. For more information see the link below.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jury Reform Comes to Michigan

Macomb Tests Jury Reform
The Michigan Supreme Court is debating whether to change how juries operate during trials -- and some Macomb County residents will be among the first to test the proposed rules. For the next 14 months, jurors in Circuit Judge David Viviano's courtroom could be allowed to discuss the trial with each other before the case wraps up. And they'll be encouraged to submit questions to the judge in writing before a witness is excused...

Among the proposed changes:
• Jurors will be given binders with the legal instructions that the judge typically only gives orally.
• Jurors will each get copies of documents that were entered into evidence.
• Experts testifying for the defense or prosecution in either civil or criminal cases could be called back-to-back so that jurors can hear all of the technical testimony at once. Or Viviano could opt for the experts to basically debate each other, having both of them answer questions from either the judge or a moderator.
Viviano also could choose to summarize the case for the jury, which could include pointing out the weaknesses in both sides' arguments...

For previous posts on this topic go here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

More Concerns About Baltimore Juries

Regular readers of this blog are aware that Baltimore city juries have as of late received increased negative attention, especially from the Baltimore Sun (see for example the previous blog posts here and here). Some believe that their conviction rates are too low when compared to the nearby surrounding counties. This led to a study suggesting that the Baltimore city jury pool be expanded to include county jurors.

This belief that Baltimore city juries are defendant friendly has also led (no surprise here) to an increase in jury demands for misdemeanor charges. This in turn has led to greater workloads for the court system to include prosecutors and defense counsel. What I find most interesting about this article is the underlying suggestion that more jury trials somehow damage or harm the legal system or society as a whole.

Requests for Jury Trials Swamping City Courts
Experienced Baltimore defense attorneys are increasingly requesting jury trials in minor cases, flooding the city's already overwhelmed courts and frequently securing more lenient plea deals from prosecutors.Between 35 and 65 misdemeanor cases are transferred daily from District Court to Circuit Court at the request of defendants or their attorneys.

The requests consume three of the 11 courtrooms reserved for all criminal jury trials in the city, forcing delays - sometimes for months - in more serious cases.The three judges handling the Circuit Court's misdemeanor docket can't try more than one case per day, leading prosecutors to dismiss, deactivate or plea bargain out more than 99 percent of the cases and hold on to a scant few for trial.Defense attorneys can reject plea deals in District Court, knowing their clients will most likely get a better offer in Circuit Court, or get off entirely after victims and witnesses tire of postponements and venue changes and don't appear for trial.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Perks for Jurors

What Recession? Mich. County’s Pagers Will Let Potential Jurors Shop
No-shows for jury duty could soon be much less of a problem in one Michigan county, which plans to distribute pagers in the near future so that potential jurors can shop at downtown stores while they are waiting to be called into a courtroom.

The new system will require prospective jurors in Macomb County to return to the courthouse within 10 minutes of being paged, reports the National Law Journal. It is one of a number of new options and incentives being offered at courthouses around the country, to make showing up for jury service less burdensome.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Disagreement with the 7th Circuit Bar's Jury Study

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the results of a 3-year study or pilot project in which 7 "new" reform proposals (listed below), previously recommended by the ABA, were tested for effectiveness in 50 Civil jury trials. I previously stated that for the most part those who participated in the study viewed the 7 proposals, especially the first 2, as an improvement to the overall trial process.
1. Questions posed by jurors (this concept has been previously discussed here)
2. Providing jurors preliminary jury instructions
3. Limiting attorney presentations
4. Using 12 person juries
5. Allowing counsel to make interim statements to the jury between witnesses during the evidence phase of the trial
6. Having jurors fill out questionnaires for the jury selection process
7. Providing jurors with guidance about how to conduct their deliberations.

However, as the article below indicates, everyone is not in agreement with this view.

Locals Disagree with Jury Report
Jurors typically don't want to spend their day at the courthouse.They would rather be at their jobs than making a small amount of money participating in a trial that can sometimes take weeks, said Iowa City attorney Mark Thompson.To avoid interminable days of unmotivated deliberation, courthouses should limit the length of a jury trial. This is just one of the American Bar Association jury principles questioned in a report released last week. But this and other conclusions have come under criticism from local law authorities, saying that they aren't feasible and possibly reckless.The report, conducted by the 7th Circuit Bar Jury Project Commission, tested seven of the bar association's 19 multipart principles to test their usefulness. Overall, the commission's executives determined that the 434 jurors and 86 attorneys who responded to the tested concepts thought positively of them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Would You Want a Governor on Your Jury?

Governor Of Kansas Reports For Jury Duty
A Kansas woman was summoned for jury duty. And unlike so many people, she was thrilled. She said she would love to serve on a jury. She's never done it.The woman reported to the Shawnee County courthouse. She was part of the jury pool for a personal injury lawsuit. But she knew the plaintiff's attorney, so she was excused. And after that brief pleasant interlude, Kathleen Sebelius had to return to her day job as governor of Kansas.

For a more in depth discussion of this topic seeEven governors get called for jury duty

Monday, October 6, 2008

Will the States be the First to End Peremptories?

Texas Supreme Court Decision Could End Peremptory Strikes in Jury Selection
A recent decision (Davis v. Fisk Electric Co., No. 06‑0162) by the Texas Supreme Court regarding peremptory strikes could reshape the state's jury selection process. "As these strikes have outlived their original purpose, it is time we did something about them," Justice David Brister wrote in a concurring opinion released Sept. 26.

Don Cruse in his Supreme Court of Texas Blog states that "I presume Justice Brister meant that the practice could be ended by rule-making rather than by the Court striking down its own rule of procedure as being unconstitutional. Batson cases have been relatively rare in the Texas Supreme Court, so this law may develop more through rules or legislative changes."

Meanwhile in Louisiana, Lawyers Target Jury-Cuts Statute
Attorneys for a black Marrero man whose murder conviction and death sentence were overturned (State v. Harris) on grounds that a black man was cut from the jury want the courts to declare the state law that allows such cuts unconstitutional. Edward Irvin Harris' attorneys allege Jefferson Parish prosecutors systematically cut black residents from serving on juries, violating both a defendant's right to a fair trial and African-Americans' right to jury duty. Prosecutors deny it, calling it a "scurrilous" accusation.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

OJ Juror Questionnaire Update #3

The completed OJ Juror questionnaires were released yesterday (see the article below). For more information about the legal dispute surrounding the release of the questionnaires go here.

5 O.J. Simpson Jurors Disagreed With 1995 Acquittal
Jury questionnaires released Saturday revealed five of the jurors in O.J. Simpson's Las Vegas, Nevada, robbery trial said they disagreed with the 1995 verdict where he was found not guilty of two murders.

Jury questionnaires released in O.J. Simpson's robbery trial reveal diverse work and life backgrounds. All 12 jurors had previously heard about Simpson and all but one knew about his acquittal 13 years ago in the Los Angeles, California, stabbing deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

'Payback,’ OJ lawyer Says of Verdict
According to OJ's lawyer, Yale Galanter, jury bias will serve as the cornerstone of their appeal. However, at least one juror has stated that O.J.'s past never came up during deliberations (Juror in Simpson Case Says the Past Was Never Discussed)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Following Instructions

Are you one to plow full speed ahead when putting something together? Or, are you someone who first reads and follows instructions before starting any project no matter how mundane or simplistic? In the world of scientific jury selection it apparently matters at least according to John Reeves the attorney for Mayor Frank Melton. Mr. Reeves wants U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan to ask potential jurors in Mayor Melton's upcoming trial whether they read directions before putting together a barbecue grill or child's toy.

Mr. Reeves goes on to state "[w]ould a juror be inclined to read juror instructions and do what the judge tells them to do? Or would they (just) say he's guilty or not guilty. I view all the questions submitted to be designed to make sure that a potential juror can be fair and that the juror would analyze all of the facts and that the juror would accept the law given by the court. I think all these questions are geared toward that."

Mr. Reeves may also be interested in these types of questions because they will help him find jurors that share his client's approach to fixing problems. Not known for holding back or strictly adhering to rules and regulations, Mr. Melton has been anything but traditional in his tenure as the crime busting mayor of Jackson. In fact, it was the Mayor's alleged disregard of proper procedures during a so-called drug raid that caused the U.S. Attorney to bring the current charges (violation of constitutional rights and possession of a firearm) against him.

Meet Mayor Melton
Is the Jackson, Mississippi mayor too passionate?

"Since taking office last year, Melton has appointed himself a sort of official vigilante. Wearing a bullet proof vest and pistols, Melton often patrols inner-city Jackson, puts up road blocks, and goes on drug raids. His tactics have been criticized as heavy handed, even possibly illegal. Melton says he has no intention of stopping."

For information about the trial go here
Meeting on Melton Jury Held in Open Court

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

State Jury List

Following in the footsteps of states like Indiana, Pennsylvania has created a state wide jury list, which contains the names of 11.5 million Pennsylvanians who either vote, pay taxes or receive welfare or food stamps and are 18 and older. According to the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Cort Ronald D. Castille, "[w]e created the statewide jury list with the aim of helping county courts identify more potential jurors to include in their jury pools." Pennsylvania counties will not be required to use the list; however, it is expected that most will. Other states addressing this issue have considered using the names of those who either subscribe or use cable or some type of utility.

OJ Juror Questionnaire Update #2

Judge Will Release Simpson Jury's Questionnaires
The judge in the O.J. Simpson armed robbery-kidnapping case plans to release redacted jury questionnaires once the trial ends and is defending her decision not to release the full surveys immediately.

"If juror questionnaires were released during this trial, there is a substantial probability that the defendants' right to an impartial jury would be prejudiced by the publicity that releasing such would generate," Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto argued in a response filed Tuesday on behalf of Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass.

Masto was responding to an emergency motion filed earlier this month by media organizations asking the Nevada Supreme Court to review Glass' decision not to release the questionnaires.
The Associated Press and Stephens Media LLC, the owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, are seeking immediate access to the questionnaires completed by the 12 jurors and six alternates seated in the case.

Stephens Media, LLC v. Dist. Ct. (State) (52399)