Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Sunday, September 14, 2014


             “Mollie, my best friend, my only friend, was violently attacked by Joe.  He rammed his car over Mollie not once but twice. Clearly he hates me and wants Mollie dead. I don’t understand. This only could have happened because he is an evil person trying to take my best friend away.” After this emotional plea, how will the jurors react?

             Instead consider this version of the same facts: “Mr. Smith, who carefully checked his mirrors before putting his truck in reverse, slowly backed out of his driveway on his way to work. After feeling a bump, he pulled forward to see if he had run over anything. Sadly, he found out that he had run over his neighbors dog despite taking precautions to ensure the safety of those around him.” How will jurors react to the same facts presented a different way? Is the emotional version more persuasive? Should the emotional version be presented in court?

            Jurors, just like all people, have emotions. Trial lawyers learn how to manipulate these emotions to provide a beneficial result for their client. Trial lawyers attend CLEs and other professional events to learn how to more effectively utilize emotions to help their case. For example, Virginia has a CLE titled What Can Lawyers Learn from Actors? Control in the Courtroom. One of the listed reasons for attending is to “[l]earn from Hollywood actors … how to control the courtroom, just like an actor does on the stage. Rivet the judge’s and jury’s attention, control their point of view, lead their instincts, and persuade them to accept your version of how the story must end.” This is one of many examples where smart lawyers are utilizing known techniques to help their client by effectively managing juror’s emotions.

            While some lawyers try to use emotions for their benefit, at times jurors are explicitly told to ignore their emotions. For example, in the United Kingdom the April Jones jury was told to put their emotions aside when deliberating. In cases in Europe and Australia judges have told juries to ignore their emotions and make their decision based solely on the facts presented.

            Since lawyers have emotions, they know that jurors do as well. They also know that it is very difficult for people to remove their emotions from their decisions. Therefore, good lawyers will learn to effectively utilize emotions to help clients, but how are jurors supposed to respond? Are they supposed to listen and be persuaded by the emotions that they are feeling or are they supposed to make informed decisions based solely on the facts presented? Do jury instructions give them any insight into these questions?

            When asked these questions, one juror, a former FBI agent, said that he was used to having an open mind because he had done this many times while performing federal investigations. He thought that having a career where he collected and used facts to make a decision made him a better and more credible juror because he relied less on emotion and more on facts. On the other hand, a nurse said engineers and doctors are rarely chosen for juries. She commented that engineers and doctors are too analytical to be chosen to serve on a jury because lawyers prefer people who think with their emotions rather than the facts. She was insulted that people in her line of work were chosen more often than people in other lines of work. She felt like this was an inadvertent insult to her and her colleague’s intelligence.

            Emotions clearly play a role in decisions.Very analytical people can rarely eliminate emotions from every choice and emotional people rarely make a choice without considering their emotions. Knowing this fact, should the justice system make changes or is the status quo sufficient? Please leave your comments below.

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