Saturday, February 24, 2007

A peek inside the jury room

What goes on in the jury room? The February 16 ABA Journal eReport published an article summarizing research out of Arizona that provides some insight.

These were not mock trials with volunteers; these were actual civil cases including auto injury and medical malpractice cases.

Shari S. Diamond, a professor of law and psychology at Northwestern University Law School and a senior research fellow at the American Bar Foundation, was a member of a panel discussing these research findings at the recent American Bar Association Mid Year Meeting in Miami. There was a time, she told the group, she didn’t believe it was a good idea to put so much power into the hands of laypeople. The article quotes Professor Diamond as having changed her mind on the subject: “It turns out I [was] like a scientist who doesn’t think hummingbirds should fly.”

Experts. Sheeesh!

As it happens, research now confirms what every lawyer who's ever faced a jury already knew: Jurors -- almost without exception -- take their task seriously. The linked article says the researchers now believe that juries do not start out their deliberations either pro-plaintiff or pro-defense. But the research made clear they are sensitive to how the lawyers act: “Don’t ever let the jurors think that you’re talking down to them,” Professor Diamond warned.

Eliminating juries, or limiting their roles, will not enhance the cause of justice. You want juries to do a better job? Then focus on the quality of evidence placed before them. That's a topic I'd like to come back to in these postings.