One of the most important sayings in our industry is that a verdict is a product of what jurors choose to talk about and focus on most during deliberations. Focus in deliberations is zero sum. If jurors are talking about one thing, they are not talking about something else. Every case has several different focal points, and those focal points tell different stories about the case. Think about the example of the film Rudy about Rudy Ruttiger, the kid who desperately wanted to play football at Notre Dame. We could focus on the game itself, which tells a different story because of the fact that the game he played in was largely a meaningless game and the game was already over in terms of score by the time he entered the game. If we focus on the game, few powerful values emerge and it’s a story that no one would want to watch a movie about.
But if we focus on Rudy and his story of struggle, we get a very different kind of story. We get an underdog we can root for and a story of triumph that is hard to forget. In both of these situations, the facts are the same, but what we focus on to make sense of those facts changes.
This is why it is so important to think about your focal point before you do anything else in your case. What is it you want jurors talking about most in deliberations? What focal point creates the most momentum for you in deliberations? Once you answer these questions, you can develop your themes and story. Continue reading →
A key milestone in any jury deliberation is the selection of the process for deliberations. At some point early in the deliberations, a process for the discussion is established. Jurors either verbally decide on a process or they simply default to one. By process, I mean the way in which they discuss the issues in order to reach a verdict. There are many different ways they can approach the discussion of the issues, and that process is important because it fundamentally influences the outcome.
For example, if the process begins with everyone going around and venting about the case in an open-ended fashion, that process makes the jurors’ emotions the most important part of the case…or at least establishes those emotions as initially important, which creates momentum for the side that emotions favor in the case. At that point, the emotions start to serve as filters for what evidence and testimony the jurors accept and reject. Conversely, if the jury starts the discussion by focusing on the verdict form questions and the jury instructions, that establishes that the law and things like the burden of proof are most important, which creates momentum in a potentially different direction. These are just two examples of potential starting points in the process, but there are many other factors to the process. Continue reading →
Jury selection is difficult. It is impossible to predict exactly how any one individual is going to decide the case. Instead, we look for indicators or glimpses into how a potential juror might decide the case. Some attorneys rely on the simple lifestyle choices of jurors, such as their news sources or what the bumper stickers on their cars say. Others use voir dire to explore jurors’ case-related attitudes and life experiences. While some methods are more reliable than others, they are all imperfect tools for trying to predict the future.
These imperfections inevitably lead to moments of uncertainty during jury selection where attorneys struggle to determine who, among a few possibilities, is the best choice for the use of a peremptory strike. Even when attorneys are confident in their identification of “bad jurors,” the situation often arises where they have fewer peremptory strikes than “bad jurors.” Continue reading →
Mock trials are a popular tool for attorneys who want to learn how jurors will react to their cases. Mock trials have become so commonplace that some argue it is malpractice not to conduct one in a high-exposure matter. With the increased use of mock trials, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of misconceptions about the design and value of this type of jury research. Let’s take a look at four common misconceptions about mock trials. Continue reading →
After a brief hiatus, The Sniper Defense podcast is back with an all new episode. In this episode, Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses the common personality and interaction types that emerge during jury deliberations and how each can impact the final verdict.