“The jury is always right.”
It’s an expression I often find myself saying to my associates as we prepare for trial. Many of my trials involve intellectual property rights; in turn, these often depend on complex factual issues, like how an automobile cooling system works, or how hardware and software combine to regulate the operation of aircraft engines. Invariably, as we prepare to present these issues to a jury, one of my less experienced colleagues will worry about how the average lay people on the jury will possibly understand the complex engineering involved.
The answer, in short: if they don’t, it’s our fault, not theirs. A skilled advocate should be able to present any issue, even an enormously complex one, in terms an average lay person can understand. Indeed, you can make a good argument that the ability to do so effectively – not to talk down or up to the decision-maker, be it a jury, judge or arbitrator, but to meet them exactly where they are – is the core skill of a trial lawyer. If we fail to do so, and the jury finds against our client, it doesn’t make sense to complain that the jury got the facts wrong. Invariably, juries do the best they can with the information presented to them by the trial lawyers. The jury, as I say, is always right.
I’ve been asked by some Sidebar Saturdays readers how juries fit into a court case, both in real life and in fiction. I’m going to try to address those questions here, with the added perspective of historical research I conducted about juries for my recent historical novel.
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