6 Reasons to Talk with Your Jurors
I once spoke to an attorney who said “I can’t stand to talk to a juror after they convicted my client.” It’s my belief that talking to jurors, especially after your client is convicted, is mandatory. Here’s why:
Jurors will tell you what they really thought of your case. Lawyers sometimes are too close to the facts of their case to understand what the jury thought was important. Talking to jurors will help you understand what mattered to them. Were there facts that you thought were important that the jury discounted? Are there questions that were unanswered by you or your opposing counsel that should have been addressed? Did the jurors really believe a particular witness or your client over others?
Jurors will give you valuable feedback on your performance and will make you a better lawyer. Jurors focus a lot of time and attention on the lawyers trying the case. They notice what you do and what you don’t do, your habits, both good and bad, and are constantly making judgment calls on the effectiveness of your presentation. Did the lawyer make his or her point clearly? What was distracting about the lawyer’s appearance or performance? Were there things that the lawyer did that made the presentation of the case more or less credible? Although sometimes hearing comments from a juror on your performance might be painful, it’s not as bad as an actor reading a published review on his or her performance? And it comes with the territory, if you want to get better.
Jurors will help you prepare in the event you must retry the case. Talking to jurors is an absolute must if they were unable to reach a verdict and you face the prospect of retrying the case. You want to get as much information from the jurors about how they viewed the evidence and your presentation (and that of your opponent’s case) so you can use this information the next time you try a case. Although no two juries are the same, the first jury can help you figure out what to focus on and what to leave out the next time you try the case. You can also get a better sense of which juror characteristics proved salient, so you can pick a better jury the next time.
Jurors may help reduce your client’s sentence. Even though the jury convicted your client, you may be able to convince some of the jurors to write letters on your client’s behalf or even appear at your client’s sentencing and ask the judge for leniency. Jurors may be sympathetic to your client’s situation and may even feel bad about convicting your client. I’ve had many jurors offer to write a letter asking the judge for leniency because they felt that the client should not face a jail sentence. Many judges will listen to and consider what a juror says, since the juror sat through the trial and can offer valuable insight on the value of the case.
Jurors may convince the DA that their case isn’t worth retrying or that their case wasn’t very strong. Prosecutors may also be influenced by what a juror says. I’ve had jurors who scolded prosecutors after a hung jury, and this has certainly helped in resolving the case short of a trial. I once had a jury who wrote the prosecutor a note in a DUI, questioning the reliability of an intoxilyzer machine used by the prosecution. They acquitted my client of one of the DUI charges in a case where the machine showed a .23 result just to make the point that the machine wasn’t working properly. This helped me convince the DA that a reduced sentence was in order.
Talking to jurors might result in a new trial.This is by far the most important reason to talk to jurors because what they reveal to you just might result in the granting of a new trial. Juror misconduct happens more often than we think, and the only way to find out about it is to ask the jurors what they did. Just in the last few months, several major cases, including a California death penalty case, were overturned due to juror misconduct. Jurors who rely on outside information or are influenced by improper information must be held accountable for their misconduct. Misconduct is a structural error, which can result in a new trial without a showing of actual prejudice and is generally not subject to the harmless error rule.Remember that you have a right to speak with jurors after their service is concluded. You should ask the judge for an opportunity to speak with the jurors once they are dismissed. Make sure that you or your assistant/intern take down their contact information. You can also formally request that the jurors’ addresses be disclosed to you in order to investigate potential juror misconduct. However, you must often show a ground for believing misconduct has occurred, making it even more important that you speak to the jurors after the trial.