4

Before anyone asks I am not a juror, I'm not researching things during a case, I promise I'm not being contemptuous inside or out of a court :)

There are a number of strict rules about what a juror can do during a trial. He can't talk to others about the case itself, look up more details about what happened in the case, or try to investigate the case itself. There are good reasons for all of this. I'm wondering though if there is any room for any kind of research within those rules in his attempt to be the best juror he can be?

So lets look at the 'most forgivable' attempt a juror could attempt to try to help him make a decision. If A juror, in the evenings between trial dates, were to research legal theory and presidents relevant to the trial he is a juror on, but nothing about the specific case, would this be permissible for him to do?

For example say our juror felt the (often deliberately obfuscated by one of the lawyers as I understand) instruction given to the jury prior to the start of the case was so confusing he didn't know what his responsibilities were, so he tried to look up what the jury legal expectations online. Or as another example maybe he vaguely recalled something about jury nullification being possible and wanted to argue for it in this case, but first researched the particulars about when and how a jury was allowed to nullify a case. Would this potentially be considered permissible?

Moving on to an even 'greyer' level, what if the Juror were to read about a scientific principle that could be relevant to how he would vote online, without asking about any of the specifics of his case? lets say a mother is on trial for causing her babies death and one expert says they are 100% certain the death was caused SIDs or some other disorder and there is no way the mother was responsible and the other expert says there is no way that SIDs could be responsible and the evidence is clear that the mother killed the child. If our Juror felt like he didn't know enough about SIDs to have any idea which expert he should believe and decided to hope on the Wikipedia page on SIDs and read about it in more detail in hopes of being better able to judge which expert's testimony felt more logical afterwards is there any chance this could be permissible?

And to throw out an almost certainly not allowed example, if the Juror looked up the two experts and saw that one was highly respected and the other has been accused of accepting high fee's to provide expert testimony that happens to fit whatever the lawyer wants to prove, causing our Juror to rule for the side with the more respected expert, I'm guessing he would get removed?

6

The most innocent of your scenarios is "against the rules", so less innocent acts fair worse. The idea behind researching legal theory and precedent (presumably not presidents) is that surely it is good for a juror to know what the law is. But that thinking is wrong. The judge will instruct you as to what the law is, and will also instruct you that "the law" is limited to what he says it is. I will draw on the instructions for an antitrust case, Best Buy v. Toshiba, HannStar. The core instruction is:

It is your duty to find the facts from all the evidence in the case. To those facts you will apply the law as I give it to you.

The preliminary instructions (the pattern instructions for California civil trials) say the same basic thing:

At the end of the trial, I will explain the law that you must follow to reach your verdict. You must follow the law as I explain it to you, even if you do not agree with the law.

The judge instructs the jury that:

When a party has the burden of proof on any claim or affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence, it means you must be persuaded by the evidence that the claim or affirmative defense is more probably true than not true.

Your research might find alternative statements of the law out there, which seem entirely plausible. That doesn't matter: you have to set aside whatever ideas (about the law) that you've gotten from anybody besides the judge. In fact, if the judge makes a (serious) mistake and rules against a party in a manner that is contrary to established law, and you know this (it doesn't matter how), you are supposed to apply the law (including rulings during trial as to admissibility) as given to you by the judge.

As for a case of a juror knowing that the judge was mistaken (specifically, knowing based on his pre-existing knowledge of statutes and case law – not based on forbidden research during a trial), we can get the "should" from the absolute instruction to follow the judges instructions. Additionally, if you read transcripts of voir dire (not a trivial task), you can observe judges probing attorneys who happen to be in the prospective pool, asking questions to determine whether that person can just do as they are told. But it would be difficult to establish a "hard rule". There never will be an instruction that says "You must follow my orders even if you know for a fact that my orders are wrong" – jury instructions never admit the possibility of judicial error.

  • pretty much what I expected, but I was curious to hear if my expectation was right. However, could you point me to source referencing that last claim, that even if you know a judge made a serious mistake you must abide by that claim? I'm curious how the case that lead to that precedent played out? – dsollen Jun 8 '17 at 22:08
  • Many jurisdictions prohibit lawyers from serving on jury's for exactly these reasons – Dale M Jun 9 '17 at 0:26
1

No. A trial is not about ruling based on "all the facts" globally. It is about ruling based on the facts introduced in the court at trial. Any piece of information that is not introduced at trial cannot be used by jurors, who are actively discouraged from "researching," or otherwise generating their own information sets. Sometimes a judge will tell the jury to "disregard" an exchange in court that is deemed inadmissible under the law. Also, the juror is supposed to interpret the law as the judge gives it to him or her, not as s/he understands it.

Suppose you overheard a witness say in the hallway during a break, "The defendant is innocent, because I committed the crime." You could not use or introduce this fact in a jury deliberation unless it was introduced in court.* In fact, jurors are carefully protected from such outside "exposure." In extreme cases, they are locked up in hotel rooms (without TVs or internet connections) each night. These measures protect jurors from learning the facts, but also about public opinions, speculations, etc. that would "taint" the process.

*Your best bet would be to go to the judge, who might order an investigation, or consult with one or both lawyers, etc. and thereby introduce this in court. But if s/he doesn't make this information available to you in court, you have no "official" knowledge of this, and can't use it.

3

The answer is absolutely, positively no.

In Colorado, where I practice, a prohibition on doing so in stark and completely uncertain terms is a standard jury instruction given immediately after the jury is sworn in and every single time the jury leaves the courtroom for any reason (even a mid-day bathroom break).

This is a bright line rule with no exceptions of any kind whatsoever.

Evidence that this happened would be highly likely to result in a mistrial forcing the parties to start over again from scratch and also probably causing the juror who did so to be punished for contempt of court.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.