Posted by: johnocunningham | August 30, 2017

Communicating With Juries: What’s New, What’s Working or Not

While jurors discuss the meaning of jury instructions a lot, they still get the meaning wrong at least 17 percent of the time, according to a recent study unveiled at the 2017 ABA Annual Meeting.

An article on the ABA website about how juries think and behave notes that the research shows that the ways to promote better comprehension of jury instructions are to:

  • provide jury instructions for each juror,
  • write “plain language” instructions, and
  • attend to the often complex relationship among different instructions.

Legendary trial advocate Stephen D. Susman has proposed that every juror should get an iPad that would have jury instructions on it, along with a glossary of terms, the cast of characters involved in the case and the relevant case documents.

The times have changed and technology has revolutionized our lives. It is probably time for ancient court-room practices and protocols to evolve as well.

Some of the practices that modern judges and advocates are utilizing to optimize communication with jurors include:

  • expanded voir dire to understand the thinking of the jury pool
  • the encouragement of questions from jurors addressed to witnesses, litigants or judges
  • the use of more video evidence and instruction or explanation
  • the use of shadow juries and focus groups prior to and during trial
  • the use of schematics, flow charts, relationship charts and other tools to explain the inter-related nature of characters and evidence involved in a dispute

In communicating with jurors and other audiences, simplification of complexity and awareness of your audience is critical. Do your communications measure up?


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