At this moment, in the silence of the courtroom, anticipation speaks volumes: palms sweating, shallow breathing, butterflies in the gut, litigants searching the faces of 12 jurors for some hint of their decision.
And then, a verdict arrives.
From the Eastern District of Missouri federal court to the St. Louis County Circuit courthouse in Clayton, we place vital and life-changing decisions concerning our work, our businesses, our estates and our commercial contracts in the hands of 12 strangers.
American author and humorist Dave Barry provides this explanation: “We operate under a jury system in this country, and as much as we complain about it, we have to admit that we know of no better system, except possibly flipping a coin.”
We understand that your litigation is no laughing matter. Our primary skill as trial attorneys involves the tried and true jury tactic — storytelling. With a jury, lawyers tell a story that paints a picture, taking the audience (jurors) from beginning to end, and making them feel as if they were actually present at the time of the events. We choose our words carefully, keeping jurors enthralled with strong adjectives and verbs, and finish off with an emotionally appealing, dramatic ending.
The use of juries to decide cases is a distinguishing feature of our legal system. Few other countries in the world use juries as in the United States. For example, juries are infrequently used in civil trials in Canada. This is because juries there have no power to award damages, as they do in the United States.
But in Missouri, since the late 1800s, Section 22 of our state’s Bill of Rights is straight to the point: “[T]he right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate.”
Telling an effective story of the facts is much easier with an attentive audience. It helps that today’s jury room may be the last vestige of a cellphone-free environment. In civil trials, all jurors receive the following admonition:
You are not permitted to communicate, use a cell phone, record, photograph, video, email, blog, tweet, text or post anything about this trial or your thoughts or opinions about any issue in this case to any other person or to the Internet, “Facebook,” “MySpace,” “Twitter,” or any other personal or public web site during the course of this trial or at any time before the formal acceptance of your verdict by me at the end of the case. If you break any of these rules, it may result in a miscarriage of justice, and a new trial may be required. (MAI 2.01)
Even the type of communication in jury rooms is given the special definition of “deliberation.” Its root is from the 14th century from the Latin word deliberare, which means “weigh, consider well.”
In legal settings, a jury famously uses deliberation because it is given specific options, along with information and arguments to evaluate. Deliberation emphasizes the use of logic and reason as opposed to power struggle, creativity or dialogue.
For example, in an employment discrimination case under the Missouri Human Rights Act, the jury panel would receive the following “instruction” from the trial judge.
Your verdict must be for plaintiff if you believe:
First, defendant (here insert the alleged discriminatory act, such as “failed to hire,” “discharged” or other act within the scope of §213.055, RSMo) and
Second, (here insert one or more of the protected classifications supported by the evidence such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or disability) was a contributing factor in such (here, repeat alleged discriminatory act, such as “failed to hire,” “discharged,” etc.), and
Third, as a direct result of such conduct, plaintiff sustained damage.
*Unless you believe plaintiff is not entitled to recover by reason of Instruction Number _____(here insert number of affirmative defense instruction)].
Although it is never possible to predict the outcome of a jury trial, its important function is well established in our history. As noted by Thomas Jefferson, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”