Feedback from Jurors After Trial

by Jamison Koehler on April 27, 2016

Graffiti red bicycleThe jury is still deadlocked after three days of deliberations, and the judge declares a mistrial. She releases the jurors. Anyone interested in answering questions from the lawyers, she tells them, should stick around in the jury room.

All 12 jurors are there when the four of us lawyers – two from the government and two from the defense – go back to see them. Apparently they do have something to tell us.

It takes us a moment to transition from the formality of the trial but eventually they begin to open up. We have been studying their expressions from the counsel table for a couple of days now, trying to discern any clues as to their leanings. Suddenly they are an open book, and we find out that we have been right in some cases but wrong in even more. We knew that the older black gentleman was going to be on our side. But we are surprised that the other holdout was a young white female. And, as it turns out, the defense had no support from the middle-aged white female – the medical doctor — we had thought might not be too impressed by the government’s case.

Juries can be difficult to read. Or maybe it is just me that is not very good at it. I think back to a jury trial I did a couple of years ago in a DUI case. The tall white guy is clearly on our side, I told my client. The guy listened intently to all the testimony, particularly during cross-examination, and he kept nodding during my closing argument.  In the end, he was the foreman of a jury that convicted my client.

We ask the jurors first for the count. Then we turn to the specifics.

Three of us lawyers are relaxed. We are interested in hearing what the jurors have to tell us. The case is likely to be retried. We also want to improve as trial lawyers. But the lead prosecutor is still arguing his case. He quibbles with the jurors when they do not agree with him on the significance of certain facts. My colleague and I joked after his closing argument that we should have bet on how many times he would point at our client.

Afterward, as we all file down the hallway behind the courtroom to the exit, I walk next to a young black woman who had been a question mark for the defense.  Completely impassive during the trial, she is now animated. The two government lawyers lean in, just in case I am about to glean a final gem of insight. I thought it was funny, she tells me, that your client seemed to sleep through much of the trial.

I smile and wave this off as we walk out into the court hallway and go our separate ways.  It doesn’t matter that she is mistaken. What she thinks is no longer important.

2 Comments on “Feedback from Jurors After Trial

  1. I have long since given up trying to “read” jurors. At a trial years ago, a middle-aged man shook his head in disapproval at my cross-examinations and glared at me throughout my closing, like he was about to jump out of his chair and strangle me. When they came out and he was the foreperson, my heart sank.

    Then he read a verdict for my client, with damages bigger than we expected even if we won.

    When I went back to talk to them, he immediately launched into how he couldn’t believe the crap their witnesses were saying to me, and about how obvious my closing was and stupid their closing was and why did this case ever even make it to trial, they should have settled. That was the explanation for his scowl.

    Speaking philosophically, I think “reading” jurors just leads lawyers astray. Even looking just for boredom and interest isn’t enough, because it’ll cause you to, respectively, overlook something or prolong an argument.

  2. And then there is feedback from lawyers with far more jury trial experience than I have. Thank you for visiting, Max, and for sharing your insights.

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