Friday, March 29, 2013

Jurors Serving on the Longest Trial in New Hampshire History Seek to Memorialize their Experience

Oftentimes jury duty gets a 'bad rap' and comes under unfair criticism. This in turn leads some to try and avoid it at all cost. I am not going to say that there isn't room for improvement in how we treat jurors e.g., they should be allowed to ask questions and take notes. However, I have noticed, over the years, that most people who actually serve on a jury enjoy the experience and would willingly do it again. Here is an interesting story out of New Hampshire about jurors who sat on the longest trial in the history of the state. At the conclusion of the evidence, these jurors all got together for a group photo to commemorate their experience.

NECN: Jurors take photos as marathon NH trial nears end

Monday, March 25, 2013

Court Holds Jurors' Use of Toy Cars to Reenact Collision Was not an Investigation (People v. Cook)

In People v. Cook, the CA appellate court both affirmed and reversed portions of the defendant's criminal conviction for vehicular manslaughter.

What I found interesting about this case is the trial court's discussion of juror experiments. In Cook, one of the jurors went out at lunchtime and bought toy cars. During deliberations, he used the cars to reenact the accident which was the central issue in the case. Defense counsel argued that the reenactment was sufficient grounds for the trial court to release the personal information of the jurors so that they could be contacted by defense counsel. In CA, juror personal information is sealed upon the issuing of the verdict and can only be unsealed by showing sufficient grounds of juror misconduct.

In this case, the trial judge, in denying the motion to unseal the jurors' personal information, found that "using plastic cars is not an experiment. That [it] is no different than drawing little pictures or using the yellow Post-It that says this car's here, that car's there." After making this determination, the trial court went on to say that "not every jury experiment constitutes misconduct. Improper experiments are those that allow the jury to discover new evidence by delving into areas not examined during trial." Upon review, the appellate court agreed with the trial court's reasoning on this issue.

Although juror experiments may seem at first glance rather clear-cut, it is not always easy to distinguish between conducting improper experiments and merely reexamining or testing the evidence presented at trial. The line is usually crossed when new evidence is introduced into the jury room.

One of the more memorable examples of improper juror experiments is Ohio v. Ryan Widmer. In that case several jurors took showers at home and then timed themselves as they air dried. Determining how long it took a human body to dry was a critical issue in the case, however, neither party presented definitive evidence on the issue. Once defense counsel learned about these experiments he requested and was a granted a new trial.

Other posts related to juror experiments can be found here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Right to Civil Jury Trial in Minnesota: New Law Review Comment

Grant M. Borgen, Note, The Civil Right to a Jury Trial and What it Means for Minnesota Creditors in Light of United Prairie Bank Mountain Lake v. Haugen Nutrition and Equipment LLC, 813 N.W. 2d 49, 2012, 39 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 245 (2012).

Overview: This article begins by analyzing the history of the civil right to a jury trial. It then turns to an examination of United Prairie Bank in relation to its historical backdrop. It critiques the Minnesota Supreme Court's analysis and concludes with a discussion about the lessons to be learned as a result of United Prairie Bank. The lesson is that until there is evidence indicating how juries award fees, Minnesota creditors are advised to include provisions in loan agreements stating that contractual attorney fee disputes shall be decided by the court and not by a jury.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Juror Questions

Due to the Jodi Arias trial, there has been an increased interest in juror questions. Below are my previous posts on juror questions and links to articles discussing juror questions.

Previous posts
Juror Questions in Florida
Downside of Allowing Questions
Juror Questions in Illinois
Juror Questions in Roger Clemens trial

News Articles
AZCentral: Arias trial: Should other states allow jurors to ask questions?
Legal Examiner: Let Jurors Ask Questions
Oakland Press: Jurors question Sandra Layne in murder trial
NY Post: Jury-rigged
NBC Southern California: Jury Questions Raise Specter of Possible Split Verdicts in Bell ...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Judge Admonished for Speaking with Jurors Post-Trial (Davis v. Husain)

A NJ Appellate court has admonished a trial judge for post trial ex parte communications with jurors. In Davis v. Husain, an employment discrimination case, the NJ appellate court stated that

We pause to express our strong disapproval of judges who speak to jurors in cases that have been tried to conclusion, as opposed to cases that have been settled or mistried during trial. Such communications run the significant risk that one or more jurors will say something that then becomes an issue with respect to the verdict reached, as happened here.

In this particular case, the trial judge, at the conclusion of the case, met with the jurors in the jury room to talk about the case. One juror noted to the judge that the defendant failed to place his hand on the Bible when he took the oath to testify. The judge passed along the juror's comment to the attorneys handling the case. On appeal, the attorney for the defendant raised the juror's comment as support for why the verdict should be overturned. Although the appellate court found the comment insufficient to overturn the verdict, it noted its disapproval of ex parte post-trial communication by judges with jurors.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jury's Role in Res Judicata: New Law Review Note

Steven Madrid. Note. Annexation of the Jury's Role in Res Judicata Disputes: The Silent Migration from Question of Fact to Question of Law, 98 Cornell L. Rev. 463 (2013).

Abstract: Steven Madrid begins his paper by discussing the doctrine of res judicata and its place in our legal system. Madrid notes that although the questions pertaining to the application of res judicata inquiry seem inherently factual, such as whether the party had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the first action, federal and state courts treat these inquiries as questions of law for the judge. However, after an examination of nineteenth-century case law, Madrid shows that it was typically the jury’s role to determine whether or not res judicata applied to a given case as a question of fact. Moreover, Madrid argues that there was no legal justification for the silent migration of res judicata from a question of fact to a question of law in the twentieth century. Even considering the judicial screening doctrine and modern Seventh Amendment jurisprudence, Madrid contends that there is no justification for treating res judicata as a question of law. Madrid concludes that litigants have a right to have a jury hear their res judicata claim and that the denial of this right is unconstitutional.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Shrinking CA Juries

The California Judges Association is proposing a state constitutional amendment that would significantly change jury service in CA for misdemeanor cases. These proposals include:

(1) reducing juries from 12 to 8 for misdemeanor cases punishable by up to one year in jail
(2) reducing the total number of peremptory challenges in these cases

The primary reason for these changes is to cut costs in the judiciary. However, I think they have other benefits to include expediting misdemeanor cases. I also believe that with smaller juries attorneys may be more inclined to request jury trials.

A critique of the proposals can be found here.

Support for the proposals can be found here.