New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Inside The Jury Room


October 24th, 2008

The Deadlocked Jury (Ted Stevens Trial) – Updated

The news from inside the Sen. Ted Stevens jury room was not pretty: “Violent outbursts” from a juror. Essentially, if this juror has others in her corner on the merits, it almost guarantees a deadlocked jury. And a hung jury is good for a criminal defendant.

Here’s the note from the jury room:

“We, the jury, requests that juror number nine be removed from the jury. She is being rude, disrespectful and unreasonable. She has had violent outbursts with other jurors, and jurors are getting off course. She is not following the laws and rules as stipulated in the instructions.”

I’ve had juries out for days on end. But in civil cases in New York, we only need 5/6 for a verdict. I have my own theory on why juries fight and deadlock — and how I tried to avoid it when I sat in the jury box some years ago and how I try to avoid it when I stand in the well– and it can best be summed up in one word: Ego.

Nobody likes to admit they are wrong. Thus, when jurors stake out a strong position at the start of deliberations, a problem is created if there is a conflict. Someone will have to change their mind. Someone will have to appear “weak.” That’s bad. If you want someone to change their mind, you have to make it easy for them. The carrot works better than the stick.

How do you avoid the problem? When I sat jury duty on a criminal case, I grabbed the bull by the horns when we went in to deliberate. I suggested that we go around the table and, without saying if we thought the defendant was guilty or not, simply discuss a piece of evidence that was interesting. That was it. Thus, without having staked out any ground as to ultimate guilt or not, it would be far easier for people to be receptive to alternative arguments and evidence.

With that experience in my back pocket, I often take a minute during my own summations to discuss the importance of listening to others and being receptive to others. I will, on occasion, tell them bluntly why, discussing the problem of ego and changing one’s mind. (Defense lawyers, by contrast, might be telling jurors they should stick to their guns, hoping for hung juries.)

Whether such cautions were given at the start of the Ted Stevens deliberations, I don’t know. Presiding judge Emmet Sullivan has gave the jurors a pep talk, telling them they should “encourage civility and mutual respect” in their consideration of all the evidence. But it may be too late, as the threats of fisticuffs can easily kick in the ego factor that prevents people from changing their minds, and causes either a hung jury or one that is severely compromised.

Verdicts, sometimes, are more about ego and less about evidence than the litigants might have hoped.


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