Here is a collection of short thoughts from my time as a juror.

  • I have never spent that much time with that many native New Englanders. Apparently, “the pike was pahking lot this munning”.
  • There is a video that the court shows all the prospective jurors. It is actually pretty good. The officer hinted that this was recently introduced to replace a several-decade-old video.
  • The courtroom was very modern. It looked like an office with some special furniture. It did not have the oak paneling and carved symbols.
  • There was a bookcase behind the judge, which we thought was for decoration, until she onetime turned around, pulled a book out, and looked up something while in a sidebar.
  • The judge had some great facial expressions. When witnesses started to pontificate, she gave this look out of the corner of her eye that is exactly the same as the one a mother gives when she is watching a child who looks like he is about to do something he shouldn’t do. She is awaiting and expecting a moment that she will have to intervene.
  • They did not buy us lunch except on deliberation day. Even during full trial days we had to find our own lunch.
  • I loved it when the judge told us to disregard a particular statement, and I had already disregarded it because it was stupid question anyway.
  • Could both sides not share a projector and screen?
  • When you show a witness a picture, please show it to the jury; otherwise, you two are having a private conversation up there.
  • Hearsay rules need to be loosened. Most of the time it just results in really awkwardly stories. This usually has to do with someone explaining why he did something, and it is because someone told him to do it. When a judge says, “Can you get this out of him without hearsay?”, she is asking that the exact same information be given, just in a legalese phrasing. Juries should be allowed to judge hearsay as it is.
  • There is this white noise that the clerk plays over the jury box whenever the lawyers go to a sidebar.
  • Judge: [After a question was asked, objected to, the objection sustained, and then the question was reworded and reasked by the lawyer.]  “Oh, come on!”
  • Judge: [When a question is being asked, the other lawyer stands up to object. To the talking lawyer.] “Stop! We are not going there.” Talking lawyer: “May we have a sidebar.” [Upon return, we went there.]
  • Based on the stories I have heard about juries and my experience with people, I expected emotions to play a central role in the deliberations. I was wrong and pleasantly surprised. No one held a lawyer’s behavior against his client or referred to evidence that had been thrown out.
  • Kaleberg

    I think you are missing something. A trial is not a logical puzzle. A trial is a play. In a sense, the antagonists present not arguments, but narratives, and the jury has to build an interpretation of the narratives that can be used as a basis for doing justice. I have two friends who work as trial consultants in the US and Canada. They were both trial attorneys for years, but now run focus groups, mock trials and provide advice on producing the best narrative. They are forever being surprised by mock juror reactions and focus group comments.

    It isn’t about just presenting facts. It is about presenting the facts in support of a story that will convince people to complete the story in a certain way. The order of presentation makes a difference. There are matters of emphasis. There is the matter of establishing the characters, as professional writers know. There is the matter of establishing cause and effect in a convincing manner so as to establish the need for a legal remedy.

    E.M. Forster said that a story was a sequence of events but a plot is a story where the events are tied together by cause and effect. His most common example: story = The queen died, then the king died. plot = The queen died, then the king died of grief. That “of grief” as opposed to “from the wounds he suffered when she tried to defend herself from him” or “from a longstanding medical condition” make a lot of difference, and that is where trial attorneys earn their fees.

    I say the trial is a play for another reason as well. If you have seen a play more than once, you will recognize just how different it can be when a different director takes a different approach or different actors do different things with the characters. The action and dialog may be the same, but the emotional impact and one’s empathies and antipathies are going to be different. Was Hamlet an adolescent asshole or a cold schemer whose plan ran away from him? It makes a difference on the stage in a way that cannot be determined by reading the dialog and stage directions on paper. It similarly makes a difference in a trial.

    • David Hagen

      It is reasonable that the goal of lawyers is to present a narrative because their goal is to win and narratives are easier to understand, but my impression from this trial was not narrative. I suspect this was because each witness gave his entire testimony at once rather than interlacing witnesses so that what they followed the chronology of the events.

      Should the legal system be structured to make it easy for the lawyers to present a narrative? I am not sure the answer is yes, but if it is, I would think that a trial on paper could be made more effective at that than what I went through. Reading the script of Hamlet would provide a more compelling narrative than watching each actor deliver all his lines in one giant monologue, even if masterfully performed.