A few weeks ago the New York Times ran this article about a mistrial in a New York murder trial following a several-months-long trial and 18 days of jury deliberations.
The part of the story that grabbed me were the complaints from other jurors that the sole holdout introduced his own theories into deliberations:
[the holdout] was convinced he had acted on principle, but other jurors believed his views were so strong and so singular that they began imagining three theories of the case: the prosecution’s, the defense’s and [the holdout’s]….
Other jurors said they thought [the holdout] was distrustful of the detectives in the case, sometimes citing recent examples of police misconduct….
Sometimes, while challenging the narrative presented by the prosecution, [the holdout] suggested alternatives that other jurors said seemed far-fetched. “He would come up with theories that the defense didn’t even bring up,” said…, the jury’s forewoman.
This is a real life example of an issue I’ve written about before where jurors introduce their own evidence and unsupported theories into deliberations. I view it as a big problem that the judicial system wants to ignore.
I don’t think that jury instructions adequately explain how juries should go about reaching their verdict. Calling our current method of instructing jurors a joke might be an overstatement. But I’m sure the system of instructing juries could be greatly improved simply by revisiting general court instructions.
Lawyers and judges should always be looking for ways to improve the judicial system. Instead, most would rather maintain the status quo.
It’s too bad. This is an area where it might not be hard to greatly increase the odds that juries render the right verdict for the right reasons.