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 →
Why do jurors talk about some testimony in deliberations, but not other testimony? Why do jurors start deliberations by talking about an issue that is not related to the first verdict form question? Why do they seem to want to talk about the one thing you repeatedly told them was irrelevant? These are important questions, and the answers may help attorneys exert greater control over what jurors spend their time talking about in deliberations. The strategic advantage that would come from this is difficult to overstate. After all, the cliché in our field is that a verdict is a product of what jurors choose to talk about most in deliberations. What they choose to talk about creates momentum for and against the parties in the case, which can often drive the final verdict.
The fundamental idea here is that, when jurors go back into deliberations, they have dozens and dozens of things related to the case that they could potentially talk about. Regardless of what they choose, they are not going to talk about everything. It reminds me of a case not too long ago where I had the opportunity to interview the jurors after the verdict came in. It was a four-week trial and over 1,000 exhibits went into evidence. The jury deliberated for almost three days. After all that deliberation, I asked them how many exhibits they looked at. Eight! Out of the thousand exhibits that were entered, they looked at eight before arriving at their verdict. The discussion in deliberations is similar. When all is said and done, the jury will have only discussed a fraction of the issues they could or should have discussed during their deliberations. 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 →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Podcast Playbook for the Defense, jury expert Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses the ten key turning points in jury deliberations that influence the momentum for one party or another.