Earlier this year I sat as a juror on a five-week murder trial. Here are some of the lessons I learned from debriefing my fellow jurors and from my own experience as Juror #101.
- Use exhibits strategically. The exhibits in this case were very important, as was the ability to display them effectively during trial. Both attorneys did their best to make sure we could see the exhibits that were referred to. But there were too many exhibits, and they were used in a rather disjointed fashion. It was distracting and confusing. Plan ahead to be sure you’ve focused on the essence of the case in 1) your selection of exhibits and 2) the witnesses you will use to introduce and explain them.
- Stress the hard evidence. There were 22 witnesses in our case, and, though no one seemed to be outright lying, it was difficult to determine which testimony was credible. On the other hand, the tangible evidence—especially cell phone records—was unassailable. Figure out in advance the best way to present the best evidence; stress it during your closing argument.
- Encourage juror questions. We were encouraged to ask questions, and we asked a number of them. Some were very helpful, covering areas that the lawyers missed—e.g., “How good is your eyesight?…. Had you seen the defendant with a gun that night?…. Did he appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol?” Our questions told the lawyers what we cared about, and demonstrated their faith in us as partners in the decision-making process.
- Be efficient. The DA, well organized, knew what he was going to do and when. His exhibits and notes were indexed so he could find whatever he needed quickly. Many jurors felt the defense attorney was not organized. He did a lot of paper shuffling and seemed to jump from topic to topic during his examinations. Jurors appreciate efficiency and hold it against attorneys who aren’t.
- Have an obvious purpose. Just as efficiency goes a long way in building your credibility, so does appearing to have a reason for everything you do. It starts with an opening statement that lays out the basics of your case—then your questions and exhibits make sense. You can also highlight the purpose of your questions by using good transitions—e.g., “Let’s turn to your ability to see the event. It was night time wasn’t it?….You were 200 yards away?….You weren’t wearing your glasses that night were you?”
For more on introduction of exhibits, see Effective Introduction of Evidence in California (2d ed Cal CEB 2000).
Stay turned for the fourth and last part of this series!
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