Tuesday, April 04, 2006

On reforming the jury system

One of the topics of recent interest has been the ABA principles related to juries and jury trials.

VTLA listserv and appellate law guru Steve Emmert filed a report today on his experience on the venire of a federal case, and reached this conclusion:

"But I was struck by how put-upon the venire felt when they were summoned to 'hurry up and wait.' This was a part of the trial over which the lawyers had almost no control, so it's unfair to pin the blame for this on the bar. But you should know that this ill will necessarily spills over to the attorneys, as a part of the entire boring process for jurors. I really do not envy the government's lawyers, who will be putting on a document-intensive case that will last perhaps two or three days, with THIS for a warm-up.

The lesson I perceive here is that we should go out of our way to respect the jurors' time, during that part of the case we CAN control. It means more motions in limine, to avoid bench conferences (which are perceived as demeaning to and by veniremen) and to avoid endless matters taken up while the jury is sent into its little room. It means streamlining things whenever possible; we have all seen advice that a shorter, more concise presentation will work better on jurors, and here's a good reason why. The delays I saw today were primarily due to the court system, not to the lawyers, so addressing those will probably require a conversation with the court at some point. This assumes the suggestion will not be rebuked with a 'That's the way we've always done it,' but I plan to try anyway, once this trial is over."

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