Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jury Orientation

By John DiMotto

In previous posts, I have discussed the issue involving jurors jeopardizing the integrity of their verdict by surfing the internet for extraneous information to assist them in arriving at a verdict.

It has been my experience that jurors want to make the right decision. If they do not believe that the lawyers have done a good enough job providing them with information (evidence), they may be tempted to seek out more information. Therefore it is imperative that the judge fully instruct them on the parameters of their service - what they can do and what they cannot do - during preliminary instructions at the start of the case.

However, I believe that this issue can be addressed even before the jurors are brought to a courtroom for voir dire. It can, and should be addressed during jury orientation.

In Milwaukee County, every Monday and Wednesday, citizens are summoned to the courthouse to begin jury service. There is a program for them before they are sent to individual courts. It consists of a judge who welcomes them and gives them an overview of what they will experience; a welcome by the Clerk of Circuit Court; a video on jury service from the Office of State Courts.

It is at this orientation that the judge can impress upon them the requirement that they must rely on only the evidence received in the courtroom to make their factual determinations. I am one of the judges who has signed up for this orientation. I love the opportunity to give them my "insiders" view -- the "real" scoop as I tell them -- about their service and I emphasize that in performing their service they cannot play "Sherlock Holmes." I tell them in no uncertain terms that everything they need to do their job will be provided to them by the lawyers (the evidence) and the court (the law). I further tell them that if they do anything on their own that their verdict will be tainted and the time spent on the case will have been at great expense to the parties and the community -- and for naught.

I am absolutely convinced that the few minutes I devote to this matter is well received and accepted by the jurors and helps them understand their role and helps them "see the light at the end of the tunnel" and thus makes it comfortable for them to traverse through the tunnel as they work towards a fair and just verdict.

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