Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Never Ask Me How Long the Jury Was Out

I'm just as guilty of it as the next lawyer. We see our colleagues in their office biting their nails or aimlessly looking through files. The lawyer had just finished their closing statements and the court had instructed the jury on the legal charges, sending the jury to perform their sworn duty.

Every few minutes a well-intentioned co-worker pops their head in and asks, "What time did the jury get the case?" or "How long have they been out?"

When asked, I answer quickly and tersely, hoping to cut off further conversation. During my last trial, someone even asked me how I felt about the length of deliberations. My answer, "Worse every minute they are out." The questions are meant to be supportive or to strike up a conversation so that we can discuss the case. But it is the last topic I want to engage in while the jury is deliberating. Talk to me about anything else--sports, the weather, the stock market, a crazy conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination. I'll take anything other than the questions about the length of deliberations or what a note from the jury means.

The jury deliberated for seven hours over two days during my most recent trial. Considering there were two defendants and ten counts in the indictment, that does not seem like a long time. In another recent case in my office, where a 21 year old man admitted to murdering and raping a 13 year old girl and his DNA corroborated this confession, the jury deliberated for nine hours over three days. 

We can all posit theories about why it takes the time it did. I'm sure the defendants wonder why it took such a short time. The truth is we pick persons to serve on juries based on gut reactions and then pray they can play nice with others and reach a decision. We ask twelve strangers to decide the fate of a person and then we question what took them so long?

If I ever serve on a jury, especially in a murder trial, I would spend as much time as it took to make sure the decision was correct. The attorneys who try cases usually understand this much better than the ones who don't. 

We can save the theories about what jury notes mean and why it took the time it did to reach a decision after the case is completely over. There will be plenty of time for war stories then. While the jury is out? Just tell me a funny story.


  1. I feel your pain. I have tried well over a hundred cases as both a prosecutor and defense attorney and hate waiting on a verdict. Your own second guessing is bad enough without someone else doing it for you. But that is not the worst part, the time between finding out the Jury is back and actually hearing the verdict is pure hell. During deliberations you can take some solace in knowing, and hoping, they are working on the case and thinking about any argument you made. Once the Jury is back everything you have said or done is history, deliberations are over, nobody is advocating your position and you are powerless to change anything and must stoically await your fate. Both situations are hell, one is just a lower level.

    1. The second guessing you do yourself is the worst. And then other people want to help you in that by talking to you about it? Ugh.

  2. And these are co-workers who should know better?

    Funny how the mind works: I see figures like 9 hours over three days, or 7 over 2, and I immediately average it out. Then I think, "What the hell are they doing with the rest of the day?"

    1. Ah, a math puzzle, Jeff. The jury starts deliberating late one day and finishes early the next.