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The Problem with Problems.

memorySo do you want to know what the problem is with problems? Most people are like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand in fear of what they might see.  We all have a tendency to ignore our problems and procrastinate.  This is fatal thinking or à total lack of thinking.

Instead of waiting until the last second before the trial starts or the evening before your closing argument, look for problems as well as inspiration the first day the case comes into your office.  Continue to hunt for inspiration and problems as the case progresses. Attorneys should not wait until the last moment to prepare their opening statement or closing argument.  This is often too late and provides little time to use your creativity as an attorney and advocate for the client.

I always keep an electronic document with a list of inspirational quotes, analogies and arguments.  I also have a list of potential problems and issues that I need to address as the case progresses through litigation towards trial.  For example, if during the course of my client’s deposition unfavorable evidence arises about my client’s background or character, I make careful note of the same on my list of problems and issues so that I can deal with it at the time of trial.

So how do you deal with such problems?  You may be able to exclude the evidence with a motion limine under Rules of Evidence 403, 404, 405, 608, 609 or 610, 702 or 802.  If the problem can be addressed in jury instructions, research the law and carefully draft a proper instruction to submit to the court address the issue (such as pre-existing conditions).

If neither of these strategies has a chance of success, then I have to figure out a way to discuss the problem upfront and lessen the evidence’s  impact with the jury.  See my article: Direct Examination and Airing Your Dirty Laundry. Most evidence has a double edge to it.  If the other side is engaging in character assignation point out the tactic and explain why the jury is being misdirected from the real issues in your case.   See my article on Distraction, Misdirection and the Art of Verbal Jujitsu.

I will raise such problems during jury selection and find out which of the jurors cannot put the problem aside or deal with it fairly.  if possible, I will get juror to admit that they cannot be a fair and impartial juror and then try to have them removed for cause or use a peremptory challenge to strike the juror from the venire.

I will raise the problem on direct examination and outline any mitigating circumstances favorable to my client and explain how the transgression occurred.   I don’t wait for redirect and give my opponent the first shot at framing the issue.

Honesty, is the best policy in dealing with such problems.   Remember, everyone is human and no one is perfect.   The jury will understand if you do and you don’t run away from the problem.  Just deal with it.   Likewise,  if I receive inspiration for a good argument, analogy or quote,  I will  send myself an e-mail or text message so that I don’t forget it.

So don’t let your problems, be the problem.  Be proactive and creative.  Do not procrastinate and brood.

Empowering Jurors… Justice or Injustice: A Book Every Attorney Should Read!

I just finished reading Justice or Injustice: What Really Happens in a Jury Room and it has some profound lessons for every trial attorney… Especially those in the criminal arena.

It is a short piece of non-fiction about a juror’s participation in a capital murder case and outlines the dangers that can occur when jurors do not know their right to hang a jury and hold onto their heartfelt and honest  opinion on a just verdict.  Compromise while expedient is not necessarily fair and just. Jurors are under tremendous pressure and really need our help and guidance in understanding the process and their rights.  David Ball, a jury consultant, refers to this as arming jurors by referring to evidence and testimony they will use in their deliberations. See Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials by David Ball (Author)

As trial attorneys, we need to empower jurors by letting them know that they have an absolute right to disagree, hold-out and hang a jury if necessary to serve the ends of justice. If we do not explain this, then our clients could end up on the wrong end of a coercive verdict. A group of jurors uncertain about their right to disagree eventually capitulate to the majority out of doubt and fear over disagreeing with the majority in the case of Kimberly Renee Poole.  According to the author, the jury foreperson pushed the minority to change their verdict of “not guilty” primarily focusing on character evidence of the defendant’s background as a stripper and swinger claiming she deserved jail.  Alone afraid, uncertain, tired, and nicotine deprived the last hold-out (the author J.L. Hardee’s) surrenders to a guilty verdict. After the trial, it was learned that the foreperson had a close ties to the prosecution which were not disclosed in voir dire. His post verdict efforts to reverse what happened are discussed but ultimately unsuccessful.

Although one was not given in the case, the story also demonstrates the danger of an Allen Charge or dynamite charge as it is sometimes referred to by the courts.  See Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492 (1896). Such a charge is used to encourage jurors in the minority to reconsider their position.  About half of the states in the United States prohibit such a charge because of its potential to unjustly influence and interfere with the jury decision process.

So arm your jurors with knowledge of their important obligation and responsibility as a juror including the following:

1.    Their factual decisions are forever.  This is your client only chance to get this right.  Except in rare instances, appellate courts review legal rulings not factual findings.

2.     Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason.  She is not influenced by station of life, background, color race, appearance, wealth, sex, religion or creed.  Her protections are bestowed on every single citizen. Jurors are sworn to decide a case fairly and impartially without bias prejudice. If someone tries to decide the case based upon something other than the judge’s instructions and the evidence relevant to those legal issues, then they should be reported to the court immediately.

3.     While jurors should not be afraid to honestly reconsider their position during deliberations, they are fully within their right to disagree with their fellow jurors.  No one will punish them for doing so.

4.      While this may be the most difficult thing they have ever been asked to do, they must be strong and courageous if justice is to prevail as your client’s fate is in their hands.

Distraction, Misdirection and the Art of Verbal Jujitsu.

Distraction, misdirection and appeals to prejudice are common tools of the defense. Ideally, you keep these improper arguments or evidence from the jury through the use of motions in limine. However, sometimes this is impossible to do. What do you do to keep the jury from being mislead or distracted by meaningless side issues? How about a little verbal jujitsu! “Jujitsu” is the oriental “art” of manipulating the opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force. You can do this by verbal jujitsu using effective analogies and counter-arguments. Below are a few of my favorites analogies and arguments. I hope they help.

STREET LIGHT ANALOGY: One dark evening a woman was on her hands and knees under a street light looking through the grass. A man walking by stops and asked what she was looking for. “The keys to my car.” replied the woman. Having some time and feeling helpful, the man joined the woman in her search for her keys. After looking for quite awhile with no success, the man asked: “We have been looking for well over 15 minutes here. Are you sure this is where you were when you lost your keys?” “Why no, I lost them a couple blocks back over there by my car” the woman explains as she gestures back towards her car. The man puzzled, asks, “If you lost them a couple blocks back, why are you looking for them here?” The woman without keys responds: “Because the light’s so much better here!” That’s what’s the defense did here, even though the real issues are two blocks back…

WHEN THE LAW & FACTS ARE AGAINST YOU: In law school they say if the facts are in your favor, argue facts, if law is in your favor, argue law, if neither law or facts are in your favor, argue like a lawyer and try to confuse the jury about what the case is really about. It’s the oldest trick in the book. The defense took a nice simple case that is straight forward and tried to make it complicated by pointing to a bunch things that really have nothing to do with the case’s merit, in hopes that you’ll forget what this case is really about…

OCTOPUS ANALOGY: The defense is just like an octopus hiding behind a cloud of black ink, they try to obscure your view with their arguments and B.S. However, all you have to do is just move straight ahead through the ink and you can see the truth once again. Most octopi squirt thick clouds of black ink to confuse predators. However, a type of Tremoctopus, or blanket octopus (murasakidako in Japanese), employs a different technique. When threatened, the octopus unfurls a giant sheet of webbing that trails behind like a cape. The webbing breaks apart rather easily when attacked — much like a lizard’s tail — and it gets wrapped around the predator’s face, giving the octopus a chance to flee. The defense took a nice simple case that is straight forward and tried to make it complicated by muddying the waters with a bunch things that really have nothing to do with the case, in hopes that you’ll forget what this case is really about…

RED HERRING ANALOGY: A “red herring” is normally used by people to divert the attention of others from something important; from the central point that is being considered. A “herring” is a kind of fish that turns red only when it is “cured” – that is, when it is smoked and salted. Such a fish emits a very strong smell and in the past criminals made use of red herrings to help them in their bid to escape the authorities. Convicts used the herring to help them throw dogs off his scent. Since the herring had a very strong smell, the police dogs followed the scent of the herring and not that of the escaped convict! The original expression was “drag a red herring across the trail”, but now it’s been reduced to “red herring”. That’s what’s happened here…

AD HOMINEM ATTACK: An Ad Hominem attack falls into a general class of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected because of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. The reason this sort of argument is fallacious is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made). These sort of arguments appeal to prejudice and bias in hopes that you will ignore your sworn duty as jurors. They are wrongheaded and improper. Lady justice stands there holding the scales of justice blindfolded. Lady justice does not care if we are black or white, Christian or Moslem, male or female, rich or poor, married or divorced… Her sole concern is to fairly and impartially evaluated the evidence based upon the law. The defense’s personal attacks on my client have nothing to do with this case’s merits. It is bad enough that they have shamelessly injured my client, now they want to profit from insulting and degrading him in your eyes. These attacks have no bearing on what is a fair and just outcome given the facts and the law in this case which weigh heavily in favor of my client…

One book which has a number of great counter-arguments is Closing Arguments: The Last Battle. This book is a well-organized collection of miscellaneous arguments and analogies used to explain and illustrate various legal issues and address common defense attorney arguments and tactics used to undercut, confuse, distract or sidetrack juries from the central issues in a personal injury case.

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