Jurors are the ultimate judges of fact, and seldom will a judge overturn a jury’s verdict. Although judges can provide useful tips to lawyers after trial in order to help them improve, there is perhaps no better teacher than a juror. Why, then, do some judges insist on insulating jurors from the lawyers after they have reached a verdict?
I suppose some judges worry that the lawyers will be confrontational to the jurors, especially the lawyer that lost their case. This may be true in some instances, but my guess is that it’s the exception. Maybe judges worry that the secrecy of deliberations will be exposed if lawyers discuss the case with jurors after verdict. Yet that does not need to be a concern.
There is so much value in permitting lawyers to talk to willing jurors after verdict. First, they are lay persons, usually with little or no training in the law. As such, they sometimes see things differently than lawyers, because sometimes us lawyers can get too wrapped up in the legal technicalities and forget what really matters to jurors exercising common sense. Talking to jurors helps lawyers keep focused on what matters to them, which is all that matters at the end of the day.
Second, jurors can provide beneficial feedback to a variety of questions: What did I do well? What could I have done better? What theme came across in my closing argument? Was my powerpoint effective during closing? Did I seem too mean to Witness X during cross-examination? Did I do anything to turn you off? Did you wish you had more information? What challenges did you personally have at arriving at a verdict? None of these questions violate the secrecy of the deliberation process at a whole, because they are directed to that particular juror’s state of mind and do not go into discussions between jurors.
Third, I think discussions with the lawyer help the juror to get a full appreciation for the service that they just performed. Jurors love to ask me questions when I talk to them. Win or lose, I treat them the same way, because their feedback is invaluable to me.
Judges ALWAYS talk to the jury after a trial, and without a doubt jurors have plenty of questions for them. But the lawyers aren’t present for that. I always ask judges for constructive criticism after a trial. No matter how many cases you’ve taken to trial, you can always get better. While it’s great to get feedback from a judge, the feedback from a juror is equally if not more valuable.
To be sure, there are jurors that do not want to talk to the lawyers after a trial. That’s their right, and they shouldn’t be pressured into doing so. But just as jurors shouldn’t be forced to talk to the lawyers, jurors shouldn’t be rushed out of the courthouse and concealed from the lawyers. Let them make their own decision on whether they want to provide feedback.
Judges want trials to run efficiently and professionally. It makes their job easier and more enjoyable. And the criminal justice system functions best when the lawyers are performing at their best. Permitting lawyers to get invaluable feedback from jurors ensures that lawyers will continue to hone their craft, which will in turn enhance the criminal justice system as a whole. Society wins when the system functions at its best.
Ryan Pacyga defends people accused of crimes in state and federal courts around the nation. He is based in Minneapolis, MN. For more information, visit www.arrestedmn.com