Despite that feeling of frustration some people get when they open the mail and see a jury summons, most of us realize that our jury system is essential to our democracy and our freedom. The right to trial by jury in a civil case is found in the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution which says:
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Because our system of justice would not function without jurors, it is absolutely vital that attorneys and the courts never take jurors for granted, and never take for granted the sacrifice they make to be away from their jobs and their families to serve on a jury.
I thought about this recently when my partner and I went to trial on an automobile accident case here in Orlando. While my partner was asking questions of the potential jurors during jury selection, I was carefully listening to their answers, but I was also imagining what each of the jurors might be thinking. This was just of couple of weeks after the Casey Anthony trial and I’m sure most of the jurors had seen the verbal beating and name-calling those jurors had taken from the likes of Nancy Grace and Casey Anthony protesters. Some of our jurors were anxious, some were angry, some were bored, some were excited, some were happy, but the one thing they all had in common – they were all willing to answer the call and appear for jury duty.
I was also thinking of my wife who had recently been summoned for jury duty. She was called for jury duty and asked whether it would be a hardship for her to return the next day for the trial. Although she was more than willing to serve as a juror, she is self-employed and had several appointments with clients the following day and went through a lot of difficulty to reschedule her appointments. So when asked if she would have a hardship if she were selected and had to come back the next day, she truthfully told the attorneys how she felt – it would not only be a hardship for her, but for her clients who were counting on seeing her the following day. Much to her surprise, she was selected to come back the next day to serve as a juror. No doubt she was stressed about being selected, and she scrambled the rest of the afternoon to once again reschedule a full day of appointments (it didn’t help that ultimately the case was dismissed by the judge half-way through trial because the prosecutor didn’t have enough evidence). Although this may not have been a reason to strike her from the jury panel for cause, a juror in that position is not a juror I would want on my client’s jury.
In our trial, we did not hesitate to ask the judge to release any jurors who could not serve due to a hardship. An angry or stressed juror is not good for either side, and most attorneys would not ask such a juror to serve. However, most jurors would probably prefer not to lose a day at work or be away from their family, but not every juror can be excused or else no one would be left to serve. So for those that do serve, it is the responsibility of the attorneys to make sure they keep the jurors’ comfort and convenience in mind while zealously representing the cause of their client. Some basic things we attorneys need to remember about jurors:
- Don’t take the jurors’ service for granted.
- Don’t waste the jurors’ time.
- Don’t bore the jurors.
Attorneys should always see the trial through the eyes of the jury. When deciding how much information to present, how many witnesses to call, or how long a closing argument should last, think about how jurors are feeling about what they are seeing and hearing. If certain testimony or some witness isn’t absolutely necessary, then don’t call that witness. If it’s not necessary to take an hour to do a closing argument, take as little time as necessary. When closing argument goes too long, you can see jurors tuning out. When you’ve lost your jurors’ attention, you’ve probably lost your case. Although each case is different, less is usually more.
As an attorney, I would find it extremely difficult to take two or three (or more) days off to serve on a jury. Our jurors should be honored for their service, and appreciated for their sacrifice, and if we are truly thankful to them, we shouldn’t take them, their service, or their sacrifice for granted.