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I vaguely recall in the case of Oracle v. Google in regards to Java v. Android that was happening in a district court physically located in San Jose, California, that one of the jurors was familiar with the process and procedure of acquiring patents, and there was some controversy in regards to this fact (he was sharing his experience with the rest of the jurors).

Is a juror having a prior knowledge of law, other than what has been presented to them in the specific court case, allowed to teach others about any such understandings they have held prior to the start of the proceedings? Is it cause for them to be disqualified, or even for the whole panel to be disqualified?

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    any objection to rephrasing from "teaching" to "sharing their understanding of?"
    – Chad
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 20:29
  • If this were to happen, it would be a form of "jury nullification." It's not supposed to happen in theory, but could quite possibly happen in practice. That's why lawyers have (and use) pre-emptory challenges.
    – Libra
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 19:24
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    Jury nullification isn't involved at all, juror misconduct is. Nullification is the right juries have to return an acquittal even in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt simply because the jurors don't think that law should exist (they refuse to follow (i.e. nullify) the law with their decision). Doing what they are not supposed to do in using law not provided to them by the court is jury misconduct. Commented May 29, 2015 at 19:33
  • @DavidC.Rankin, doesn't it imply that anyone who has had prior experience with any law possibly applicable to the case is a bad candidate for being a juror? I mean, aren't explaining things to one another is part of the deliberations? And how could one possibly disregard all of their prior knowledge on a whim, yet still participate in the discussions at hand?
    – cnst
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 0:52
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    Well, that goes more to why lawyers are not chosen as jurors by the attorneys trying the case than the propriety of their further explanation of the law. You are 100% correct in that when selected, each juror can lawfully bring to the jury all of their life's individual experiences, etc.. In case of an attorney juror, he/she will have more experience in the legal area than the rest. However, with regard to the "law of the case", they are under the same obligations as the others, to consider only what the court has instructed the panel concerning what the law is for that case. Commented May 30, 2015 at 3:07

3 Answers 3

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I finally found the actual transcript of the voir dire part of the case mentioned in the question.

http://www.groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?story=2012090614295190

As can be evidenced from the transcript, the judge has specifically instructed the two jurors working as engineers at the local tech companies that they'd have to "forget" what they know about both the software engineering and the patent law itself, too, starting their work on the whole case with a completely clean sheet, using a very simple criteria for making decisions:

One side or the other is going to have the burden of proof on -- one side has the burden of proof on some issues, the other side has the burden of proof on other issues. When you go into the jury room to deliberate after you've tried your hardest to understand the evidence, if they haven't educated you on it or if they haven't persuaded you, the party with the burden of proof loses. It's that simple. You don't have to -- you have to make a good faith effort to understand it, but if the party with the burden of proof has failed to do that, the party with the burden of proof loses. That's the standard. You have to -- you, the jury, decide.

Now, what you cannot do is bring to bear something that you've learned in some other case, some other patent case, about how some piece of equipment works or something like that. You can't do that. It has to be based on the record here.

Then, after a short break and a consultation with the lawyers, where Oracle seems to have expressed some concern to having the computer experts be on the panel, which subsequently prompted the judge to declare the following to the two potential jurors who worked at Cisco and HP:

So this is really going to be directed at both of you, but, you know, you come to the party, so to speak, with some prior training that bears upon the subject matter we're going to be hearing a lot about here. That's okay. That's not disqualifying, but you -- it's okay to use your common sense when you render a verdict, but you cannot add to the record in court something that you know about the way software programming works that the witnesses didn't actually testify to. You see what I'm saying?

You've got to decide the record -- the case based on the record made here as opposed to adding into it what else you may have known about the way programming and software works.

Since both jurors had so much software and patent experience that they couldn't disregard it easily, they were thus both excused (page 95 of 224).

All right. I think it would be too hard for you to sit in this case and sort out what you knew already against what is proven or not proven here, and itwould not be fair to the parties to have that extra burden even though you two actually know something about the subject. It's in a way too bad, but it's for the best. So you two are excused to go back to the jury assembly room. Thank you.

The other instructions that the judge gives to the potential jurors is also worth reading (starts on page 36 of 224)

The full transcript is at http://www.groklaw.net/pdf3/OraGoogle-942.pdf.

In summary -- jurors are only allowed to talk to one another when the deliberation process starts, and, no, they are not allowed to bring any "baggage" to the case at stake.

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    It seems odd to me that in a system where a balance of individual experiences achieves a sentence, inidividual experience should be dismissed.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 12:42
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    This doesn't make any sense when applied to other situations. If you aren't allowed to use your knowledge of how things work when rendering a verdict then what exactly are you supposed to use? If a doctor sat on a jury and the case was about a medical situation then surely they would use their knowledge of anatomy and physiology to inform their opinions of the presented evidence. How is the understanding of computers and programming different? It seems that Oracle wanted to avoid jurors who knew anything about the subject matter because that knowledge may have negatively impacted their case
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 21:47
  • @kevin there's a whole process called "voir dire" which is supposed to prevent that situation from occurring. It doesn't show up on TV much, so it's not in the popular culture, but it's one of the many places you want your trial lawyer to actually know how trials work.
    – fectin
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 22:40
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    I do know about voir dire, but it's meant to exclude people who wouldn't be able to be impartial jurors. For example you would obviously exclude anyone who worked for Oracle or Google or who own stock in them. You shouldn't however exclude people simply because they know a thing. If you were trying a case about reckless driving would you have to exclude anyone who knows how to drive because "it would be too hard for [them] to sit in this case and sort out what [they] knew already against what is proven or not proven here"? That would be ridiculous, we all bring our experiences to the table
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 23:04
  • While I don't entirely agree with it, the idea is to create a level playing field by having the case only decided based on the evidence presented so that it comes down to what the lawyers do rather than outside influences. I had my own experience with this when I was a juror on a case that hinged on building codes. But because neither lawyer actually introduced said code, we as jurors were not allowed to consult it. Seemed silly to me that a case about a building not having enough smoke detectors wouldn't let us see how many were required, but maybe the lawyers left that out for a reason.
    – SCD
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 14:26
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A more appropriate example than what was presented @cnst would be considering lawyers on the jury panel.

That happens every so often, and typically to the greatest concern to district attorneys in criminal cases. However, this is generally no cause to strike a jury, and if the party used their no-cause strikes, that jury will remain on the penal.

As you can imagine, attorney jurors, during the juries deliberations among themselves, often engage in explaning applicable law to the best of their knowledge which is not on the record or be disclosed outside their deliberations.

The answer may be not, but in practical terms, when a lawyer explains their point in layman terms through generalized principles and formulations, it will be hard to do much about it.

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    Lawyers and judges are in some cases excluded from being called in the first case, and usually don't make it through Voire Dire. It's one of the first questions. "Is any of you a policeman, lawyer or paralegal?" followed by summary exclusion of those.
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 10:12
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    Yet, attorneys still make the cut “every so often”.
    – kisspuska
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 2:57
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    @Trish You just sheepishly "forgot" to mention why "lawyers and judges … are excluded": Because they were previously affiliated with the case or the parties of the case, and it is known to the court. Neither is a reason for cause, the parties without peremptory challenges will have deal with a non-affiliated lawyer on the panel because the mere fact of a profession is not a good cause just one that either side can act on with peremptory challenges left. Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 3:05
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Of course.

Jury deliberations are supposed to be secret. Jurors can teach anything and everything they personally know that could be helpful towards making an intelligent and just verdict.

Jurors are free to employ:

  • Common sense
  • Conscience
  • Compassion
  • Personal knowledge, experience and understanding
  • etc.

to come up with a verdict. That's what a jury is and why juries exist: To allow defendants to avail themselves of such things as common sense, conscience, experience, and consensus in making a determination of guilt.

Experience and intelligence cannot be disallowed in the making of a verdict. Jury instructions that violate any of the above are unconstitutional, null and void, and place the one issuing such instructions in a state of liability for crimes against the people.

Neither judges nor anyone else has any right to rule any personal knowledge or expertise "out of bounds" on the part of a juror. Notice that there is no need in the above case to enter any of the jury's expertise or other information brought by a juror into the court records, so the excuse that the use of experience is disallowed on account of court records is actually a red herring on the judge's part.

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  • Lawyers, show your faces and explain your downvotes with a constructive critique that will make this answer better.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 18:46

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