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My experience on Jury Duty. Warning...long. (1 Viewer)

Could the judge have answered "what's the legal definition of  'knife'"?

BTW, what is the legal definition of "knife"?
I don't know what the question was, but probably not.  And there are probably a few different legal definitions of a knife in any given jurisdiction.

 
If you were teaching an architecture class to first year undergrads and gave out a syllabus and it said "On Wednesdays, be prepared with a photograph of a house the design of which you find inspiring.  We will pass around the photographs and discuss each one," and one kid came in with a painting of a stylized house that doesn't really exist, what would your reaction be?
this is not a good analogy.

 
I think you are knowingly being narrow minded. You make it seem like a group of people that have lived their lives in a certain way for decades are going to willingly abandon how they have thought for their entire lives because of something that is written on a piece of paper.  If a lawyer just assumes that any random group of people will just do that--and finds no need to explain "while this thought is going to be against your nature--in a court of law--sematics and fine details mean everything"--that lawyer shouldn't complain when he/she loses a case. 

 The prosecution has the burden to prove that the weapon was clearly a knife and that has not been established..etc.". Instead the defense lawyer did and said nothing ----assuming that piece of paper was going to do all of the work for him. If jurors were robots that had no problem being reprogrammed to think a different way than they had their entire lives--then you have a point.   The defense lawyer bet on that assumption that a piece of paper would do all of the work for him--and that was a stupid bet. If a lawyer wants to be succcesful--that lawyer better find a way to communicate and explain in easy terms to a non legal person--why their side of the case is the right one in a court of law.  The defense attorney failed miserably here--and the fact that the judge got approached with a question that he wasn't allowed to answer clearly is evidence of that failure.   
part of the charge to the jury is to follow the instructions that they are provided--not their personal interpretations and biases.   lawyers know that juries are fallable, and sometimes even idiotic, but sometimes there really isn't much more you can do that write an instruction in plain English and hope that they read it and follow it.

after a case, lawyers are often able to speak with the jurors to determine why they found the way that they did.  I had a  case where after speaking to jurors I learned that they didn't follow written instructions about assigning damages because they thought that the judge was rude to the defense attorney.   the instructions were crystal clear about how they were supposed to assign damages.   they just ignored them.   

 
In your experience, how well do juries do with the instructions they're given? Do you think these instructions work in most cases?
Given that juries consist of 12 people who weren't able to figure out a way out of jury duty, it's completely hit or miss.   In my trial experience, juries tend to try hard to do the right thing, but they're completely unreliable about how they do it.   The best you can do is write simple, clear instructions.

 
This is certainly cynical and probably inaccurate.  Many people feel a sense of duty. Others probably have nothing better to do.
Having tried numerous cases and engaged in voir dire with hundreds of potential jurors, I can tell you it is both cynical and accurate.

 
For all we know, the homeless person who committed the crime may have wanted the longest sentence possible so that he would be fed and have a place to stay. So the defender pleaded not guilty to send it to trial with the intent off losing. 

 
I was in a jury last summer in a first degree murder trial (it was even mentioned by Trump since it involved an illegal immigrant).  The jury selection took two weeks and the trial took 2 months.  We deliberated for a day and a half and found the defendant guilty on all but one count. 

The jury instructions surprised me on how specific they were and how easy it made it to decide on a verdict.  It made a very logical step by step process that allowed us to come to a consensus rather quickly.  There were weird circumstances in that the victim died a week after the attack from a pulmonary embolism so the question in the trial was whether or not the beating/strangulation was the cause of death.  Going into the trial I had my doubts that the prosecutor would be able to prove the first degree aspect of the case but due to the felony murder rule it was pretty cut and dry.  Intent to kill wasn't required and we just had to decide whether or not the beating was the ultimate cause of death.  The way the instructions were outlined made it very simple to come to that conclusion. 

We had a similar question at one point as the OP on the definition of something written in the instructions.  The answer came back as the straight Webster dictionary definition which wasn't really what we were asking.  I wasn't surprised but we were more trying to ask if there was a legal definition but I guess in this case this wasn't a word that had a separate legal definition so we go the Webster definition.  It didn't help us  break the tie.   hahaha

In the end the defendant got what he deserved and it was a very interesting process to be a part of.  I actually enjoy jury duty as that type of stuff is interesting to me. 

 
I never felt a desire to “get out” of jury duty.  If they picked me so be it.  They never asked me a question during voir dire.

 
Question for the assembled... I have never been called for jury duty.  ~20 years in my previous county, and now five in this one.  Is that unusual?

 
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joffer said:
I never felt a desire to “get out” of jury duty.  If they picked me so be it.  They never asked me a question during voir dire.
Well that's you're problem, you're half French. 

 
Gally said:
I was in a jury last summer in a first degree murder trial (it was even mentioned by Trump since it involved an illegal immigrant).  The jury selection took two weeks and the trial took 2 months.  We deliberated for a day and a half and found the defendant guilty on all but one count. 

The jury instructions surprised me on how specific they were and how easy it made it to decide on a verdict.  It made a very logical step by step process that allowed us to come to a consensus rather quickly.  There were weird circumstances in that the victim died a week after the attack from a pulmonary embolism so the question in the trial was whether or not the beating/strangulation was the cause of death.  Going into the trial I had my doubts that the prosecutor would be able to prove the first degree aspect of the case but due to the felony murder rule it was pretty cut and dry.  Intent to kill wasn't required and we just had to decide whether or not the beating was the ultimate cause of death.  The way the instructions were outlined made it very simple to come to that conclusion. 

We had a similar question at one point as the OP on the definition of something written in the instructions.  The answer came back as the straight Webster dictionary definition which wasn't really what we were asking.  I wasn't surprised but we were more trying to ask if there was a legal definition but I guess in this case this wasn't a word that had a separate legal definition so we go the Webster definition.  It didn't help us  break the tie.   hahaha

In the end the defendant got what he deserved and it was a very interesting process to be a part of.  I actually enjoy jury duty as that type of stuff is interesting to me. 


Two months? That's a long time. Was it boring on a day to day basis? How did you deal with your work?

 
this is where I keep ending up.  a little mad at myself for not sticking to what I thought, but not beating myself up over it.

thanks for all the replies everyone, on both sides.
There is a difference between following instructions and doing the right thing.  I think it reflects well on you that you were conflicted about it (unlike your fellow jurors), yet I think you ultimately did the right thing.  👍

 
-fish- said:
part of the charge to the jury is to follow the instructions that they are provided--not their personal interpretations and biases.   lawyers know that juries are fallable, and sometimes even idiotic, but sometimes there really isn't much more you can do that write an instruction in plain English and hope that they read it and follow it.

after a case, lawyers are often able to speak with the jurors to determine why they found the way that they did.  I had a  case where after speaking to jurors I learned that they didn't follow written instructions about assigning damages because they thought that the judge was rude to the defense attorney.   the instructions were crystal clear about how they were supposed to assign damages.   they just ignored them.   
I completely understand that--but part of being a good lawyer is understanding the fact that the people that are in charge of deciding a trial don't have years of experience making decisions that might not correlate with their common sense and life's experiences.  Lawyers and Judges with years of law school and experience under their belt might fully understand that semantics might carry more weight than common sense in a court of law--but assuming that a group of people who don't have that experience can just do that on a whim because it's written on a piece of paper is a very shaky assumption.  When you have a case where the lawyers are fully aware that jurors are going to have to abandon much of their common sense and life's experiences to make a proper legal decision--I think it's up to those lawyers to continuously pound away and stress that fact to the jurors.   From what the OP has said--I don't think that happened here.  

The jurors in this case saw a video showing the attacker proactively run 1.5 blocks and attack the defendant with a stabbing motion.  That would by nature be dramatic footage that would cause an emotionally charged reaction from anybody who saw it.  You think that counting on 10-12 people with little to no legal experience to completely disregard dramatic footage like that because it says on a piece of paper "that that a guilty verdict required that the attack was done with a knife" --is an example of a defense attorney doing a great job?  If I was a defense attorney and knew that a jury saw that tape---I would absolutey hammer away to the jury that it had to be fully established that the attack was conducted with a knife to render a guilty verdict.  I wouldn't rely on jury instruction to do my job for me. In fact--I would proactively mention to the jury that it actually mentions that in the jury instruction so that there is zero ambiguity.  No piece of paper alone is going to erase what those jurors saw on that tape.   The defense attorneys should have realized that they needed to argue far more emphatically about the knife not being established.  Instead it sounds to me that they perhaps mentioned it--but didn't hammer it home.  I don't think the jury was "an activist jury that wanted to convict" as HF stated. I think it was a defense team that wasn't active enough in defending their client and relied far too heavily on the jury instruction to do the job for them.   

 
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Mirriam Definition of knife

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a cutting instrument consisting of a sharp blade fastened to a handle

b : a weapon or tool resembling a knife

2 : a sharp cutting blade or tool in a machine

Seems like like whatever the weapon was is covered under "b" and meets the definition of knife 
Seems pretty clear

 
Very interesting thread.  Can see both sides of the debate between @Henry Ford and @jvdesigns2002. As someone who has yet to actually serve on a jury despite getting summoned almost every year this thread is enlightening as to how the process works, yet terrifying to think about how easy it is for a well-intentioned jury to misinterpret or overthink the instructions and screw up serious decisions. 

 
Very interesting thread.  Can see both sides of the debate between @Henry Ford and @jvdesigns2002. As someone who has yet to actually serve on a jury despite getting summoned almost every year this thread is enlightening as to how the process works, yet terrifying to think about how easy it is for a well-intentioned jury to misinterpret or overthink the instructions and screw up serious decisions. 
The one thing that jury duty taught me was that there are way more stupid people in this world than I originally thought.  And I already had the percentage above 98%.

 
Guilty is the right call IMHO

key for me might be the hospital pics...if the weapon pierced the skin in an incisive manner, that would be enough for me...that physical evidence would corroborate the other witnesses testimony that it was a “knife” 

the Dictionary defines a knife as an “instrument used for cutting.”  The accused used the instrument and cut the victim.  You have witnesses and video that an instrument was used as a weapon, and hospital/EMT records the show (I presume) that cutting occurred.  So both elements for defining a knife were shown.

 
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I suggest you contact the defense attorney and send him a link to this thread.  Just as you were not qualified to judge the intricacies of the law when you were in the jury room deliberating, you're not qualified to judge them now.  This could be grounds for an appeal, couldn't it?  The jury asked a specific question and received a vague answer.  Immediately following the verdict they were provided a specific answer which would have very likely changed the verdict.  Seems like a professional should be looking at this and decide whether it makes sense to follow up formally.
I considered this briefly.  If I thought a huge miscarriage of justice had taken place, I would.  But I don't think that's the case.  Plus I'm not sure it would do any good.

 
Two months? That's a long time. Was it boring on a day to day basis? How did you deal with your work?
We had every Thursday off due to the courtroom being used for other court proceedings and every Tuesday morning off for the same thing so I was able to go to work 1-1/2 days a week to sort of stay caught up.  My company paid me for jury duty so it wasn't a huge issue being off that long.

The trial was fascinating to me but it did have some instances that dragged on.  For example, they trotted out every nurse that cared for the victim to establish that protocols were followed and that the hospital care was not negligent leading to the DVT and resulting pulmonary embolism.  After awhile it was too repetitive as they all said the same thing and referred to the same medical charts. 

Otherwise I enjoyed figuring out where the prosecutor and defense attorney was trying to go with their cases.  It was also interesting to see how they crafted their questions to try and lead the witnesses to the answers they wanted to get.  After awhile I could tell what each side wanted and it was interesting.  The whole process fascinated me.  It also added to it that it was big news so news cameras were there every day as it was quite a spectacle.  It was a big deal locally.

Luckily we had a good group of jurors that were reasonable (very surprising as I was expecting there to be some space cadets that essentially would make stuff up).  Everyone was pretty much on the same page once we read the jury instructions and figured out what had to be proven and what didn't count as reasonable doubt etc.  The only issue we had was on one of the special circumstances charges.  It was the only one that required there to be intent to kill to be guilty.  We were split 10-2 on that one as the 2 hold outs required success to equal intent.  Since the strangling didn't directly lead to the death (meaning died due to the strangling itself) the two holdout believed there was not intent.  I tried to reason that success or failure of the strangling didn't have anything to do with the intent.  But it didn't work.  Luckily that one special circumstance didn't really change the outcome.  Because of that we didn't spend a ton of time on trying to hash it out.   Luckily we had reasonable people otherwise this could have been problematic. 

 
I suggest you contact the defense attorney and send him a link to this thread.  Just as you were not qualified to judge the intricacies of the law when you were in the jury room deliberating, you're not qualified to judge them now.  This could be grounds for an appeal, couldn't it?  The jury asked a specific question and received a vague answer.  Immediately following the verdict they were provided a specific answer which would have very likely changed the verdict.  Seems like a professional should be looking at this and decide whether it makes sense to follow up formally.
@PsychopavI spoke with a friend tonight who is an investigator for criminal trials and he agrees with you.  Anyone else with an opinion on this?  Hoping @Zow chimes in but understand if you’re busy.

 
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@PsychopavI spoke with a friend tonight who is an investigator for criminal trials and he agrees with you.  Anyone else with an opinion on this?  Hoping @Zow chimes in but understand if you’re busy.
Been slammed.  Trying to free up some time. As a heads up, however, I will not be able to give you direct legal advice. 

 
Very interesting thread.  Can see both sides of the debate between @Henry Ford and @jvdesigns2002. As someone who has yet to actually serve on a jury despite getting summoned almost every year this thread is enlightening as to how the process works, yet terrifying to think about how easy it is for a well-intentioned jury to misinterpret or overthink the instructions and screw up serious decisions. 
The one thing that jury duty taught me was that there are way more stupid people in this world than I originally thought.  And I already had the percentage above 98%.
Serving on a jury is the single most influential reason I changed my position on the death penalty.  I was part of something eerily similar that ended up in a murder charge.  Half the people seemed to have their minds made up before the trial got under way definitely before the defense could even present their case.  It was alarming.

 
Serving on a jury is the single most influential reason I changed my position on the death penalty.  I was part of something eerily similar that ended up in a murder charge.  Half the people seemed to have their minds made up before the trial got under way definitely before the defense could even present their case.  It was alarming.
I'm the same.  If someone admits guilt to a horrible crime, and we're 100% convinced of his guilt, we can kill him, gas him, lock him up, whatever you want to do with him as far as I am concerned.  I really don't care at that point.  But if someone maintains innocence, there's no way I trust a legal process that includes a jury to make the call on that.

 
same thing that's wrong with every trial lawyer.  he's exhausted and people hit him up for free legal advice every day of his life.
Pretty much.  Also come to realize that it's just not worth whipping out advice on a message board when there's even a .01% chance it could become a later issue. 

To the OP, if you think there's an issue, and if it's riding on your conscience, it may be worth doing a consult with a criminal attorney in your jurisdiction to see what he or she thinks. In general, juries, for good reason, aren't given all the answers as to why your questions weren't answered or the jury instructions weren't as specific as you'd like.  The only person who likely can give you the best advice regarding your situation is an attorney with criminal law experience in your jurisdiction.  

 
I'm the same.  If someone admits guilt to a horrible crime, and we're 100% convinced of his guilt, we can kill him, gas him, lock him up, whatever you want to do with him as far as I am concerned.  I really don't care at that point.  But if someone maintains innocence, there's no way I trust a legal process that includes a jury to make the call on that.
I've probably done something like 40 criminal jury trials now.  I do think for the most part that they get it right.  Oddly (or maybe not so oddly), I think I've won more than I thought I shouldn't have but I have definitely lost some where I thought there was clear reasonable doubt. I don't really seek out talking to jurors after trial like I've used to because, save for one exception, I was always slightly disappointed because jurors frequently indicated they made their decision on something either irrelevant or not even argued/addressed during trial. 

I'm with you on the death penalty -- it's just too permanent of a process. I did some work with the Innocence Project and, while I have shaken the hands of some who were facing the death penalty but prevailed on post-conviction relief, DNA has shown us that innocent people have been executed.  So, while I really don't have a philosophical issue with the death penalty, I do have a practical issue with a less than perfect system deciding whether a defendant gets the death penalty. 

 
OMG.  I’ve been called now 4/4 years.  Do I have the stink of juror on me or something?  Before the last 4 years I was only called once in 10 years.  Considering how many people have moved into my county, I have a hard time believing I was just randomly called again.  Turrible.

 
OMG.  I’ve been called now 4/4 years.  Do I have the stink of juror on me or something?  Before the last 4 years I was only called once in 10 years.  Considering how many people have moved into my county, I have a hard time believing I was just randomly called again.  Turrible.
For me, if you're called you get a get out of jail free card for something like 8 years before you can be called again.

 
For the board lawyers, some questions:

Do you accept the more vague definitions of knife as a "cutting instrument, tool resembling a knife, etc"?

What % of people do you believe are erroneously convicted versus acquitted based on semantic distinctions or technicalities?

Lastly, I've never been called for jury duty, despite nearly 30 years of eligibility. How in the world do people get called multiple times in a short time frame?

 
For the board lawyers, some questions:

Do you accept the more vague definitions of knife as a "cutting instrument, tool resembling a knife, etc"?

What % of people do you believe are erroneously convicted versus acquitted based on semantic distinctions or technicalities?

Lastly, I've never been called for jury duty, despite nearly 30 years of eligibility. How in the world do people get called multiple times in a short time frame?
Do you have a drivers license and are you registered to vote?  Does the name on your drivers license match exactly the name on your voter registration?  I had a summer job about 25 years ago working in the jury services office.  At that time they pulled names based on those two things and you were more likely to get called often if your names were not an exact match - for example, only using your middle initial on your voter registration where you DL has your full middle name.  At that time if you were summoned you then had a 12 month guarantee of not being called again (however if your two sources didn't match then your other source might get called). 

Things may have changed and it may differ in different states/counties but 25 years ago that is how it worked where I was. 

 
I can relate to the OP.  I felt/feel horrible after being a juror on a wrongful death case.  We heard case for a few days.  Deliberation came and 2 jurors were siding with the plaintiff, the rest of us were with the defendant.  (both jurors had spouses with medical backgrounds)  I was the foreman and leaned heavy on the 2.  Eventually they relented as they had nothing to argue based on the evidence/testimonies presented.  When I got home I called a friend who's a doctor and asked his opinion on the case.  He said that we were lied to by witnesses, as he said things that lead to the victim dying happen all the time.  I wanted to puke and still feel horrible about letting the hospital off/pressuring the 2 jurors to switch.   Our system has flaws and I wish I'd have listened to my gut instead of listening to the letter of the law.    

 
I think you are knowingly making excuses for people who actively decided to ignore written instructions when sending someone to prison despite the fact that they were repeatedly pointed out to them.
you aren't worth it...

 
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