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Reflecting on the role of the jury

Earlier this week I completed a jury trial.  The trial itself took three weeks with the jury charge and two-day deliberation going into the fourth week.  There were three co-accused facing some serious charges.  My client was acquitted of the very serious charges on the indictment and found guilty of two charges which, while serious, were minor compared to what he was facing.  The co-accused were acquitted of everything.  I truly feel this was the proper result and have gained a lot of confidence in the Canadian justice system.  There was clear reasonable doubt, and the jury recognized this.  I expect I will blog a few more times about this trial and the entire experience.

My co-counsel and I wanted an intelligent, professional jury.  We knew the legal issues were somewhat complicated and wanted a jury who could put their prejudices aside and truly assess a case.  Seeing how the jury took two long days (the verdict came in around 11pm on the second day of being sequestered) and asked for clarification on the legal issues, it was clear they were a careful and intelligent group who took their job very seriously.

What I found quite fascinating was the balance of power shift once the jury begins their deliberations.  During the trial, the Judge and lawyers are in charge.  It is the lawyers who call the witnesses, ask questions, and make submissions.  In many ways the jury is left in the dark.  If their is an evidentiary issue then they are asked to leave the courtroom.  They don’t know the background of the case.  I assume it is very frustrating for them to be left in the dark on some of these things.  Once they begin deliberations, though, things immediately change.  The jury is in charge.  Nobody, including the Judge, has any idea what they are discussing and what issues they feel are important.  They can ask questions but nobody can ask them questions.  Even after a verdict the law prevents any discussion of what discussions ensued in the jury room.

Once a verdict is reached, the power shifts back to the Judge and lawyers.  The jury is thanked for their service and they shuffle out of the courtroom.

This group of twelve individuals, whom I have never met and know nothing about besides their names and occupations, were willing to take almost a month away from their day-to-day lives to perform their civic duty.  Many people avoid this role, but this group took on the task and truly rose to the occasion.  The thank-you provided by the Judge just did not seem like enough for all the time and effort they put into this task.  I wanted to go shake all of their hands and thank them for the service they provided.  While I do not believe there is anything wrong with anyone talking to a juror after a case (provided the discussion is not about their deliberations), a personal thank-you in the courthouse would be completely inappropriate.  Besides the accused and their friends and family and other members of the public observing the trial, everyone else in the courtroom is their in a professional capacity and paid for their time.  Jurors receive a small stipend once the trial goes into its third week.  It is a thankless job but one which I hope those who serve gain from both personally and professionaly.

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