The role of juries in adjudicating cases has long been the subject of consternation and debate by those in the legal system. In civil jury trials, the jury acts as the fact-finder and must determine the proper level of liability (and where applicable, damages) to assign the defendant. Much psychological research has focused on how to craft trial procedures to assist juries with this complex task. For example, providing juries with both preliminary and final jury instructions has been found to improve decision-making processes and trial outcomes by giving jurors a cognitive framework to assess the evidence presented at trial. Other studies have observed that simplifying jury instructions, as well as allowing jurors to take notes and ask questions, can improve both juror comprehension and satisfaction. But how do jurors come to a verdict once they are sent to deliberate?
During trial, lawyers make many strategic decisions to try to appeal to a jury. For example, they consider not only the substance of the evidence they present, but also the emotional impact of that evidence. But the impact of a witness’ testimony can be blunted if your jury is not following the testimony, so the use of demonstrative exhibits can be a useful tool to ensure the jury remains focused on the testimony.
In a seismic change to its evidentiary jurisprudence, New York recently enacted legislation that significantly broadens the admissibility of statements made by a party’s agent or employee.
Until now, New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) had an oft-maligned (or, perhaps sometimes celebrated) quirk—statements of a party’s agent or employee were inadmissible as hearsay unless made by someone with actual authority to speak on behalf of the party. This was in stark contrast to the Federal Rules of Evidence, which require only that the employee or agent be speaking “on a matter within the scope of that relationship and while it existed.”
This month, the Second Circuit weighed in on open issues relating to discovery under 28 U.S.C. § 1782. Section 1782 allows federal courts to order entities that “reside or [are] found” in their district to produce evidence for use in a proceeding before “a foreign or international tribunal” upon request by “any interested person.”
What happens in the jury room, stays in the jury room. Except when it doesn’t. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of a Colorado man whose counsel learned, after the guilty verdict was rendered, that one of the jurors had made statements in deliberation that the defendant must be guilty and his alibi witness could not be trusted, because both men were Hispanic. The case, Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, pits two fundamental aspects of jury trials against each other: the inadmissibility of evidence about what was said or done during jury deliberations versus the right to a fair trial by unbiased jurors. The Supreme Court’s ruling could open up jury verdicts to possible challenge when those verdicts appear to be the result of racial or other bias.