What Do Jurors Think When Sitting in Judgment and What Do They Say in the Jury Room During Deliberation


Lawyers are meticulous in their trial preparation. We outline our cases, prepare witnesses, torture ourselves in planning the presentation of evidence and spend countless hours rehearsing opening and closing arguments. Even with most mercurial of planning, however, the trial itself can be a game of chance because the most important element of a trial is the element over which attorneys have the least control – the jury. Jurors swear an oath to accept the evidence as presented and to apply the evidence to the law as instructed by the judge. Even so, it is impossible to expect that a juror is willing or able to divorce themselves from their backgrounds, biases and points of view which will color their perception of, well, everything. What happens when these influences are so strong that they control over the juror’s promise to set aside bias and to apply the facts to the law?In Lynch v. Carolina Self Storage Centers, Inc (Dec. 2013), an injured plaintiff sued for significant personal injuries that she sustained when a heavy door closed on her foot. The medical bills alone for the plaintiff exceeded $246,000.00. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the precise amount of the medical bills ($246,068.42) and awarded no money for pain and suffering, permanent injury, etc. Further, the jury held the plaintiff 50% at fault for the incident and the verdict was reduced in half.After the trial, the plaintiff’s attorney communicated with the jury foreman and learned about some horrifying things that took place in the jury room – things that made it clear that the verdict really had little to do with the facts and the evidence and much to do with the biases and prejudices of the individual jurors. A motion was made for a new trial based on juror misconduct and was supported by an affidavit from the foreperson attesting to the following events during jury deliberation. One juror stated that she could not stand the Plaintiff’s attorney and for that reason was unwilling to award anything to the Plaintiff. The juror was so steadfast in her position that she said would stay until “doomsday” before giving an award to the Plaintiff.Some jurors observed that the plaintiff lived beside a doctor and therefore it was speculated that the Plaintiff “must have money.” Although not in evidence, the presumption that the Plaintiff had money led to the opinion that she did not need money. One juror who was a bank employee offered, presumably from personal knowledge, that the Plaintiff had a large bank account and therefore didn’t need money. When asked, “how do you know that? Does she bank with you,” the juror replied, “no”.The Plaintiff’s attorney apparently represented one of the juror’s ex-spouse in a divorce case, but the juror did not reveal this during jury qualification. More importantly, she did not reveal her deep dislike of the attorney.Clearly, the jury ignored the prime directive to apply the facts and evidence to the law, right? Surely, this would create the right for a new trial, right? Not exactly. Our court affirmed the decision of the trial court not to grant the new trial motion and refused to disturb the jury’s verdict. In essence, the court held that the foreperson’s affidavit was not admissible and could not be used to prove juror misconduct during deliberations because the jurors’ conduct at issue did not occur outside the jury room. Had the decision of the jury been improperly influenced from “external” forces (ie. threats, bribes, etc.), then the court presumably would have ordered a new trial. In this case, however, our court demonstrated its aversion to invading the “internal” decision making process of the jury.Perhaps even more importantly, the Lynch case is confirmation for us lawyers of what we suspect happens behind the closed doors of the jury room and it heightens the concern that we may not be able to overcome deep seated biases through good advocacy. Clients who decide that they “just want their day in court” may take heed here as well. After all, would you really want to have a jury hear your case if you knew that they secretly hated you or your lawyers? There is no easy answer to the dilemma other than this: make sure that you are represented to competent, zealous counsel who will use their skills and tools by the best of their abilities to discover these deep seated biases before they rise up to kill your case.Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter.