One of my recurring themes on this blog is my belief that lawyers and judges are doing a poor job communicating with juries on what the jury’s job is and how the jury should decide the case. This is a criticism of our explanation of the decision process–not how we communicate on what the verdict should be.
I found more evidence of this in this ABA Journal news about every single juror in a case not reporting past court experience.
From the article:
A judge in St. Petersburg, Fla., is considering a new trial request after all six jurors in a civil case failed to reveal their past involvement with the court system.
The jurors found no liability in the death of 84-year-old Marjorie Anderson, an assisted living resident who fell to her death while trying to navigate the stairs with her walker, the Tampa Bay Times reported last month. Now Judge Anthony Rondolino of Pinellas County is considering whether to grant a new trial because the jurors failed to disclose 16 past cases, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
The newspaper lists the jurors’ cases, discovered after the verdict: three bankruptcies, two foreclosures, a tenant eviction, a contract dispute, a declaratory judgment, an appeal, a child support action, a paternity suit and five domestic violence cases.
One juror told the Tampa Bay Times he didn’t mention a 1996 bankruptcy because he didn’t think it amounted to litigation. “We did not go in front of a judge or anything like that,” he said. Another juror did not think her uncontested foreclosure in 2001 met the definition. “That isn’t a lawsuit. I didn’t go to court,” she said.
The juror explanations show that the jurors weren’t lying–they didn’t understand the question. I’m sure the questions seemed clear to a judge and lawyers who are immersed in the judicial system. To normal folks? Not so clear.
Should we take it for granted that jurors understand how they should approach deciding the case when we instruct them on the law by reading endless jury instructions at the end of the trial? Not in my opinion.