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Taking Control of the Courtroom Before the Trial Begins

Forming a bond with the prospective jurors is the #1 goal for jury selection. Easier said than done. Prospective jurors enter a cold, sterile environment (a/k/a, courtroom) with nothing on the walls other than photos of dead judges. Not exactly the ideal environment for getting the prospective jurors to open up about their deepest secrets.

Empower the Jurors with their Rights

Empower the prospective jurors by sharing that they are the most powerful people in the courtroom. You might say,

You are the most powerful people in this courtroom. You are more powerful than the lawyers, court officers and even the Judge. Because you decide the outcome of this case and no one else has that power.”

By relinquishing some of your power, you become instantly more credible with the prospective jurors. Explain to the prospective jurors that they have important rights, including the right to ask the Judge for:

  • Read-backs of the testimony, and
  • Read-backs, or an explanation, of the jury instructions.

You are showing the jury that the testimony and jury instructions are very important to you. Explain the anticipated length of the trial and that you will be respectful of their time. You might say,

“This trial is expected to last 6 to 8 days [a range is better than an exact # of days]. I will do my best to complete the trial as quickly as possible, but there are sometimes delays in the trial that cannot be avoided.”

Warning! You better not under-estimate the length of the trial. Jurors hate lawyers who don’t respect their time.

Become the Host of the Party

Introduce by name the court reporter, court officer, Judge and defense counsel and refer to your client by her first name, “Debbie”.

Explain the rights of prospective jurors who might have a disability or handicap. You should tell the prospective jurors that the court can allow for breaks for a juror whose medical needs require that he or she stand, or use the bathroom on a frequent basis. You might explain that the court can provide special accommodations for those with sight impairments, such as:

  • Providing large print transcripts,
  • An Elmo device for magnification (when available), or
  • Having documents read to a juror with a sight impairment.

Reasonable accommodations may include assistive learning devices, a sign language interpreter, or a court reporter with Communication Access Real-time Translation (“CART”).

Challenges for Cause Based Upon Disabilities

An individual with a disability is neither prohibited from serving as a juror, nor automatically exempted from serving. People v. Guzman, 76 N.Y.2d 1 (1990)(New York’s Court of Appeals held that an individual with a hearing impairment by reason of that impairment could not be disqualified as a juror). As long as the individual meets the other qualifications for serving, including being:

  • A U.S. citizen;
  • A resident of the county;
  • Age 18 or over;
  • Having no felony convictions; and
  • Being able to understand and communicate in English,

a physical disability is not an automatic exemption from serving as a juror.

Under Judiciary Law section 510, the court will look at the individual, rather than provide a blanket exemption, to determine whether that person can perform the duties “in a reasonable manner”. The courts have upheld a peremptory challenge against a juror with a hearing impairment, where it would have affected the juror’s ability to assess the inflections of the defendant’s voice on the audiotapes being submitted into evidence. People v. Falkenstein, 288 A.D.2d 922 (4th Dep’t 2001); and granted a challenge for cause against a blind juror where physical evidence was a key component of the case. Jones v. New York City Transit Authority, 126 Misc.2d 585 (Civ. Court, N.Y. Co., 1984).

The courts have upheld juror service for a juror with a sight impairment (including providing a large print transcript and having documents read into evidence). People v. Caldwell, 159 Misc.2d 190 (N.Y.C. Crim. Ct., N.Y. Co., 1993; a juror with chronic headaches that required medication, People v. Busreth, 35 A.D.3d 965 (3rd Dep’t 2006); and a juror who required frequent breaks due to an arthritic back. People v. Santiago, 277 A.D.2d 258 (2nd Dep’t 2000).

photo credit: Onasill ~ Bill Badzo ~ Vacation Ohio Van Wert ~ Van Wert County Courthouse ~ Historic Courtroom via photopin (license)

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.