In my state, the jury foreman is decided by chance -- whoever is the first juror selected is the foreman. Guess who was Juror Number 1?
It was a criminal case with four separate charges, two of them turning on whether there was force or threat of immediate use of force. Listening to the other jurors deliberate and taking part in the process was fascinating.
Some people's minds were probably made up before we heard any evidence, some people took quite a while to make up their minds. Some people were relentlessly logical and walked through their reasoning again and again, others just stated their position and checked out of the discussion.
One thing that surprised me was how good the group was at ignoring things that weren't in evidence, even though we knew about them. We distinguished what the lawyers said from the evidence, we assessed credibility and assigned weight, we focused on who had the burden of proof and what the standard was.
We actually explicitly agreed that it did not matter to us whether the defendant had done something like this before or was likely to in the future, we did not care if he was going to "learn a lesson" or anything else like that. Perhaps somewhat to my surprise, we kept strictly within the rules of deciding the facts of each event completely on their own, and letting the chips fall where they may. I'm pretty sure we all knew what the stakes were, and how likely it was that this guy had a heck of a lot to lose if he got convicted of a felony or he would have pled out, but we were very clear on which elements of the crime were met and where the state had just not quite fulfilled its burden, and why. The defendant himself, his circumstances, his personality, our (not at all complimentary) opinions of him as a person -- none of that mattered in the slightest.
Another thing that surprised me was how good we were as a group at remembering the evidence. We asked for some to be played back where we weren't 100% sure and it was very, very important, but the testimony pretty much confirmed our memories.
Incidentally, we were a very respectful jury. We didn't make any personal attacks even when it was clear where we disagreed. It was a long and difficult afternoon, but it was cordial.
Things I learned, true at least for this trial and maybe more broadly:
- Attorneys can look like idiots to the jury when they're unprepared, can't find exhibits or papers, their assistant can't find things for them, and they call witnesses they really, really shouldn't call. But the jury won't care, and the lawyer's idiocy will not weigh one way or the other in the jury's discussion of the evidence.
- The jury notices when one side attempts to lump unlike things together. And the jury doesn't like it.
- Along similar lines, the jury notices word games and subtle physical acts intended to shade the evidence. The jury doesn't like any of that either, and won't go along with it.
- The jury is not swayed by the defendant's decision not to testify or even not to present any evidence. That's not taken as a sign of guilt.
- The jury pays attention and understands when the judge says something is not evidence. If it's mentioned in deliberations, it's then excluded from the reasons for convicting or not convicting.
- That even goes for hearsay.
- Video evidence can backfire, especially if the quality is poor. If the jury decides it doesn't show what you say it shows, the video undermines your credibility about everything.
- What lawyers say is not taken as evidence. The jury hears it and remembers it, but doesn't take it as fact.
- Openings are important, closings much less so.
- Voir dire is an opportunity not to be missed to get the jurors interested and engaged, but see #1, getting the jurors to like you doesn't win your case.
- Jurors will wonder why key witnesses or central evidence appears to be missing. They won't necessarily base their decision on what's missing, but they'll notice.
- If you have video evidence for almost everything, some jurors will want it for absolutely everything. See also #7.