Friday, June 09, 2006

Thoughts of a Jury Foreman

(Guest posting by Dad.)

As a practicing attorney, I had never been allowed the viewpoint of the jury box, until now. Recently I was sworn in as jury foreman of a jury of 6 in a misdemeanor case at a Florida county courthouse. It was very illuminating, but also frustrating. There are many things that could be done to drastically improve our justice system.

The first is for the district attorney's office to persuade the victim who brings the case on a statement of information, to use alternative methods besides the criminal courthouse. Our case involved a domestic dispute, and it became clear to us that both the victim and the accused needed to have at least a year of counseling. Indeed, that might have been the sentencing if we could have been justified in finding the accused guilty, but we could not - it was one of those cases where we thought the accused probably was not innocent, but because of the state's ineptitude, we had to bring a verdict of not guilty. And of course, we were not able nor even tried to bring up the counseling suggestion at any point in the proceeding. (Did the judge do it privately out of the hearing of the jury? Is that something a misdemeanor judge would even DO?)

Which brings me to the second thought. We the jury wanted two things during our deliberation: we wanted a review of some of the evidence from the court transcript (evidence we had just heard that day), plus we wanted more instruction from the judge on a key issue. When we submitted those 2 questions, the judge called us out to simply inform us that as to a) the evidence, we had to rely on our best recollection. As to b) the instructions, we already had clear and sufficient instructions. Thank you, judge, very much. If we had thought what we had was sufficient, we would not have posed the questions, for crying out loud.

The third thing is something that I expect most juries complain about - there were questions that should have been asked by the appropriate attorney, but were not, and WE WANTED TO ASK THEM. But of course, that is not our time-honored practice. Heaven forbid that we should make such drastic changes in our hallowed justice system, even in the interest of bringing more justice. But if the courts ever do become more open-minded, it might be possible to allow juries to pose questions by funneling them through the judge.

Of you who are attorneys, if you think it appropriate, feel free to forward my message to any attorney or judge friends you might think would be interested. Also, if any of you have reasons why my ideas are unsound or impractical, I would appreciate hearing them.

Dana Schmidt

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