Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Were They Thinking?

A friend of mine worked on a big case that was tried recently. Nasty injury, big money at stake. After nine days of trial, the case went to the jury at about 2:00 p.m.

A little background: Generally, in civil cases, the longer the jury deliberates, the more likely it is that they are finding for the injured party and determining how much money to award. Longer deliberations are considered unfavorable for the defense. My friend was on the defense side, so when the jury was out for two hours, things weren't looking so great.

After two hours, the jury had a question. That was around 4:00 p.m.

A little more background: Generally, while the jury is deliberating, the parties and their lawyers have to hang around the courthouse, trying not to look too nervous. Also, trying not to drive themselves crazy by second-guessing what might be happening in the jury room. It's a little bit like suspended animation.

If the jury has a question, they pass a note to the bailiff and it produces a flurry of activity. The bailiff alerts the judge and rounds up the parties, the attorneys, the clerk, and the court reporter. Everyone must be present before they can move forward on the question. When the word comes from the bailiff, everyone takes a deep breath, straightens their tie (literally or figuratively), and troops back into the courtroom to find out what the jury wants.

A question from the jury is also a chance to get some insight into what the jury is thinking about. They are asking about the testimony of the eyewitness? (Maybe they're stuck on what caused the accident.) They want a calculator? (Okay, we're pretty sure they're talking about big money.) They want an explanation of some pertinent point of law? (Well, obviously they're being very careful.) It's a real guessing game.

So, when the question came out from the jury room, it took some time to assemble everyone. Pulses beating fast, they all met in the courtroom at 4:30 p.m. for the judge to open and read the note from the jury.

And what did the jury want to know?

"It's getting pretty late. Could we have more water and some snacks?"

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