I previously described the high-level findings of the Seventh Circuit’s American Jury Project – click here for that post, including links to PDFs of the report and related documents. Having discussed the four Principles studied in Phase Two,* this post looks at the additional three Principles considered only during Phase One: juror questionnaires, deliberation guidance, and trial limits.

The Phase One study showed strong value in having potential jurors answer questionnaires prepared by the court and counsel before voir dire. It streamlined the voir dire process, preserving judicial resources and benefiting jurors who are not comfortable with public speaking. The Commission recommended using questionnaires. For much more on questionnaires and a great library of them, check out Anne Reed’s Deliberations blog – click here for Reed’s questionnaire library.

The Phase One analysis of adding deliberation guidance instructions was inconclusive. Judges in sixteen trials used the following instructions regarding picking a foreperson and deliberating:

A.                 Jury Instruction on the Role of the Presiding Juror:

You are free to deliberate in any way you decide or to select whomever you like as a foreperson. However, I am going to provide some general suggestions on the process to help you get started. When thinking about who should be foreperson, you may want to consider the role that the foreperson usually plays. The foreperson serving as the chairperson during the deliberations should ensure a complete discussion by all jurors who desire to speak before any vote. Each juror should have an opportunity to be heard on every issue and should be encouraged to participate. The foreperson should help facilitate the discussion and make sure everyone has a chance to say what they want to say.

B.                 Jury Instruction as to Suggestions for Conducting the Deliberations:

In order to help you determine the facts, you may want to consider discussing one claim at a time, and use my instructions to the jury as a guide to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prove all the necessary legal elements for each claim or defense. I also suggest that any public votes on a verdict be delayed under everyone can have a chance to say what they think without worrying what others on the panel might think of their opinion. I also suggest that separate tasks (such as any note taking, time keeping, and recording votes) be assigned to more than one person to help break up the workload during your deliberations. I encourage you at all times to keep an open mind if you ever disagree or come to different conclusions on facts from any of your fellow jurors. Thinking about the other juror’s point of view may help you understand their position better or give you a better way to explain why you think your position is correct.

A strong majority of jurors believed they had to follow the judge’s instructions above. Guidelines that jurors believe to be rules are not good for the process, especially if an appellate court later decides the guidelines were somehow incorrect.

The Commission also suggested that judges explain the trial schedule to juries – whether they would be required to deliberate on weekends or late in the evening, etc. Generally, providing juries information helps the process and increases juror satisfaction. Having said that, my experience has been that, without any guidance, juries usually adopt reasonable schedules, starting at reasonable times, ending for the day between 5 or 6, and deliberating late or over a weekend when they feel close to a decision.

            Finally, the Commission studied trial time limits in Phase One. Generally, judges were disinclined to set hard limits on trial time. My experience, however, is that most judges informally limit trial time and that those informal limits are fairly effective. Counsel do not want to upset judges by going over the limits, and jurors still get increased knowledge of their jury commitment without the extra cost of keeping exact time of trial for each side.

* For more on the Phase Two principles, click here (juror questions); here (preliminary jury instructions); here (12 person juries); and here (interim statements by counsel).