Monday, December 23, 2013

Why I Don't Speak to Jurors after Verdicts

How do you get to a verdict?

Start with weeks of preparation, copying discovery, finding evidence stored all over the city, and speaking with witnesses. Mix in a string of days with little sleep as the trial moves into gear and a dash of evenings spent at the office analyzing paperwork and testimony. Increase blood pressure and knock years off your life due to the stress. Tie it all together in a ten second event when the foreperson of the jury announces a verdict to make either relief or frustration.
The cases I indict are carefully investigated before I even present them to the grand jury, with the majority of the investigation completed by then (There are always witnesses and paperwork that pop up as a case moves closer to trial). A quarter of the files I handle are dismissed prior to indictment because there is not enough evidence to prove the defendant committed the crime and another 50% are resolved through pre-indictment plea bargaining. Only a small percentage of cases progress to trial. I don't indict a case unless I am confident beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant committed the crime.
By the time trial rolls around, all the heavy lifting is done. The rest of the work is detail related, but it is the most time consuming. All the work, stress, worry, aggravation, and fear must be put aside in an effort to make the facts and case seem effortless in front of the jury. Crimes are, by their nature, messy and sordid affairs, which rarely follow a straightforward factual pattern. Look at many homicides, which are usually based on circumstantial evidence (because the only witness is deceased) and the motivation might be as simple as a misdirected insult. The job of a trial attorney is to make the convoluted facts move forward in a logical and understandable stream so the jury understands the importance and relevance of each witness and piece of evidence as they hear the testimony.
After closing arguments, the work is over and my mind begins to unwind. I feel myself losing the sharp edge that I had honed in the previous weeks and my thoughts begin to scatter, unable to focus on any task while I wait for the phone call announcing the verdict. Because I have investigated the case so thoroughly and put so much time into it, I am convinced of the defendant's guilt. It is difficult not to become emotionally invested after so much. The thought of an acquittal seems like the jury is personally insulting me.
I never speak to the jurors after a verdict. They are human, which means they are at times rational and irrational, stubborn and easily persuaded. They latch onto extraneous details that had no significance in the case. They declare one attorney better dressed or more likable. A person will drive himself crazy listening to twelve strangers critique and explain their decision.
The moment the closing arguments end, the attorney loses control over the case, which is a difficult moment for any lawyer. You spend so much time working and shaping a case to display its best features to a jury and then you have to leave it all and hope they make the decision you want. Speaking to the jurors after the verdict can only negatively affect me, whatever the verdict. There explanations for an acquittal usually center on saying there wasn’t enough evidence or some form of speculation that was completely irrelevant to the case.  Why talk to them after a guilty verdict? I don’t need the positive reinforcement and all they can say is something like they searched on Google, visited the crime scene, or some other inappropriate conduct I’d have to report to the court that has the possibility to impair the conviction.
Deliberations are a secret process and I will respect that for as long as I am a trial attorney, mainly for my own sanity.


  1. Admit it: The real reason you don't talk to jurors is that you don't care what they have to say, you are done with them.
    No, all you care about is whether you have improved your Win/Loss ratio. And who knows. you might find out that jurors were bullied, or cajoled into voting this way, or that. Guilt and justice? Who cares? So long as you got a "W."
    As for plea bargaining? You offer that when your case is weak because if they bite, it still counts as a "W."
    And how many innocent people have you convinced to take a plea, because IF they loose, it will go much harder on them? A W! How many innocent people agree to a plea because they can't afford a REAL defense team at trial, and some 4th rate PD, says it's a good deal kid, I'd take it? You don't care, you got another "W!"
    How do your bosses judge your performance? Your "W " column.
    Prosecutors treat justice like it's big-league sports. That's a problem, because justice is very low on the what matters to you--to your career. This is largely why the supposedly freest, fairest country in the world has, by a huge margin, the most people in prison, per capita, than any nation in the history of man kind. More than the Russians even at the height of the Soviets Union, more than Still RED China.
    Shakespeare had the right idea about lawyers!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your concern for the system and it is obvious you do not like prosecutors. Does it matter to you that I dismiss over a quarter of my cases before indictment because I've determined the police acted unlawfully or there is insufficient evidence? I take my ethical and constitutional duty seriously and do not indict cases where there is insufficient proof nor coax pleas with cases that I can't prove.

      As for performance, well let's just say that the win/loss record is not always the best indicator as I have worked in a jurisdiction where a prosecutor loses more than half of their cases at trial. If the win column was the mark of success, the office would fire everyone every year.

      I don't seek out jurors after a verdict, but I do answer their questions and listen to them when they sometimes call my office to discuss the case after it's all over.

  2. I wonder, does not talking with jurors after a trial mean that you give up an opportunity to learn more about what is (and what isn't) effective in persuading them, and thus give up on an opportunity to improve your courtroom skills?

    1. Absolutely it does. But I don't think it's the best time to ask those questions about myself. The only thing I would like to say is thank you for their service and ask if they wanted to know anything if I did talk to them.

      And I definitely talked to them after my last trial, thus breaking my own rule.