Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Follow-up Jury Duty Questions

(This one is super-long. But I promise I am done with jury duty posts. I'll happily continue in the comments if anyone wants, or feel free to email me.)

Okay, I don't want to subject everyone to endless chatter about my jury duty experience, but I did want to respond to the questions that came my way when I posted about it last week. I have a couple of other things in the works that should be more entertaining to non-legal people, which I will get up as soon as I can -- definitely before my vacation at the end of next week.

First up:

"I would really like to know how you felt during the jury selection: did you feel that the lawyer was playing a game, trying to plead his case, or really trying to learn something about you?"

I didn't think of it as a game (although since you mentioned it, I can see an analogy to two lawyers playing chess). But the questions were sort of... I don't know... formulaic? I think both lawyers decided beforehand what sort of common experiences or outlooks would sway a potential juror, and tried to get to that information as best they could without giving away too much about their case. So it wasn't so much that they were trying to learn much about
me, but more that they were checking for obvious warning signs in my past or at the top levels of my psyche.

I guess the defense did a better job at the jury game, although I don't remember his questions being any more insightful than the plaintiff's lawyer. But for whatever reason, he got a jury full of people who can recognize emotional appeals and reason around them.

Did you think their questions were stupid, obtrusive, sneaky? Jury selection is the toughest for me. I am trying to de-select - get rid of the folks who are biased against trying to repair harms with money. At the same time, no one likes to be de-selected. I am trying not to bore them. I am trying to listen to their answers. I am trying not to judge them or cross-examine them into my way of thinking. I am really just trying to do my job for my client the best way I know how. What can you tell me about a juror's thoughts while this is going on?

I think we understand. At least, I did. In Gwinnett County (I don't know about anywhere else), you are pretty much on the hook for jury duty whether you get picked or not, I think it doesn't matter as much as you think if we don't make the cut. Being picked means we sit in a jury box listening, not being picked means we sit in the assembly room with our books and cell phones and iPods and bathoom freedom. The hassle comes from being selected to come in, not from being picked.

As for the questions, I thought they were a little shallow, but I don't know how to improve them. Also, I'm looking back at them after knowing all the details of the case, which probably changes my view from what it was at the time.

Anyway, my advice is to not worry about offending a juror by cutting them, because they are not yet emotionally involved in the case. As long as everyone understands that people have pet peeves or uncommon views or something that doesn't make them bad people, but can color their opinions in certain situations, there is no problem. (For example, if I was on a case involving someone who was being tried for torturing and killing dogs, I would have a hard time with it, because I have a bit of a hangup about the puppies.)

Next up,
Cheryl Carpenter

Did you feel manipulated? How do you feel like the attorneys were using emotion and why didn't you like it?

Again, this might just be me, but I lean more towards a "just the facts" approach. But we were charged with deciding who was negligent leaning up to the accident. That negligence is not going to be affected because the plaintiff loved her little boy or the defendant got straight As in college.

And the pictures of the dead boy in the gutter did nothing to advance the case. I can't think of anything we needed to see in those pictures. Maybe I'm a little cynical, but I think the plaintiff's lawyer was hoping we would feel so awful for her loss that we would be inclined to give her a little something. And maybe that works sometimes, but in our case, all twelve of us expressed some level of distaste for it.

I don't think it was a shady move, really. It's his job to do whatever he can for his client, and perhaps it works sometimes, or there are cases where emotional appeals are more valid. It just felt like we were wasting time and putting everyone through a roller coaster.

Also, you mentioned that the attorneys were just trying to cut the opposing witnesses during cross exam. Did you like this type of questioning? How did you feel about the attorneys when they were harsh with the witness?

I don't have a problem with any of that. Part of the job, it seems to me, is to discredit your opponent's case or to highlight the biases in the witnesses. If your testimony can't hold its own against direct questioning, it probably deserves to be ripped up.

Similarly, some witnesses just need to be shouted down if they are being obstructionist or evasive. We didn't get too much of that here, but the defense lawyer did get a little huffy with the accident reconstruction guy (and I don't blame him - I was ready to beat him with a physics book myself), but they tended to appeal to the judge instead of getting in shouting matches.

Neither lawyer came of like a butthole. My impression is that the real butthole lawyers exist mainly on TV :)
My complaint about the Plaintiff's Accident Reconstruction Expert

I alluded a couple of times to my negative opinion of this guy. I was asked offline to elaborate, and I thought I would do so here.

My main problem with the ARE was his lack of understanding of very basic physics. Either he is too ignorant of physics to have that job, or he started with the conclusion the plaintiff wanted and worked backwards.

There were some relevant facts about this case:
  • We did not know the exact impact point, but we do know where the bodies fell
  • The defendant claimed to be moving at 40mph, which is 5mph below the speed limit
  • The plaintiff and the older boy both ended up behind the car
  • The windshield was broken on the passenger side
This is the scenario he presented:

He ultimately concluded the defendant was moving at around 25mph, not 40, because tossing the victims 100 feet through the air would likely have killed all three. Conveniently, moving at 25 also gave the defendant more time to see and react, and since she did not, there's a much better chance she was distracted by something else.

The problem is that there is no way to hit something from a horizontal direction and have them arc up and ahead of the impacting object. Try rolling a pool ball into another pool ball, and see if the second one flies off the table and onto the floor.

It's a little more complicated, but basically a human being hit by a car will do one of two things:
  • she will fall flat to the ground and be run over
  • she will fall onto the hood and be carried along until the car either stops or she rolls off the side
Since the first impact would have been the car's bumper at about knee height, far below her center of mass, she would fall on the hood. Since the windshield was cracked, we know she hit the windshield with her head or shoulder. Since she and her son were lying behind the car when it stopped and showed no signs of actually being run over, they clearly rolled or slid off before the defendant stopped.

She did not go leaping through the air ahead of the car. To suggest it tells me that the ARE is either ignorant of physics, or trusts that we are. Best evidence suggests it went like this:
  1. The defendant hit the the plaintiff and the older boy, and all three fell across the hood.
  2. The one-year-old got slung or thrown into the grass
  3. The plaintiff hit the windshield and rolled off
  4. A few feet further, the three-year-old slid into the gutter
WHEW! That was long-winded. Sorry!

So I hope you can get a sense of my frustration with this guy. It might seem like a small thing, but as any lawyer can tell you, if you can cast doubt on one part of someone's testimony, you are obliged to doubt all of it. (That said -- if any real physicists are reading this, please tell me if I made a mistake. I'm pretty sure I have the basics right, but I don't want to libel this ARE. That's partly why I didn't mention his name :) )

Okay, no more jury duty postings. For the next post, I'm trying to decide between telling you about the time I summoned a fire god or the time a computer nerd started lusting after my sister in front of me.

1 comment:

Senator Rodriguez said...

Are you serious? A fire god??? I am interested.