There are those who cherish the jury system and then those who think it is ruinous to a well-run society. Few, if any, however, and certainly no trial lawyers, doubt the hard work and sincere dedication that jurors in the United States almost always bring to every case. People generally take their duties as jurors seriously and it is very often extremely difficult, even traumatic, for citizens to decide the fates of litigants.
On the other hand, what other process should we use to assign value to human life?
It is a hard job, but someone’s got to do it. Best, maybe, to convene a group of peers, a more or less random sample group, and have them undertake this great responsibility, have them make these very difficult decisions, and then disband. This might be the optimal balance of a humane decision-making process for the decision-makers and also those whose fates are decided.
Jury decisions are not made in a vacuum, of course. They are guided by the evidence, which, in turn, is subject to rules of admissibility, and they are guided by the law, which is an enormously complex and confusing cloud of inconsistencies (or so it sometimes seems).
Jurors are instructed as to what is evidence, which they can consider, and what is argument, which they cannot. This, like many legal distinctions (e.g., “direct” vs. “circumstantial” evidence) can recall Gertrude Stein’s famous description of Los Angeles (“there is no there there”) when subjected to scrutiny in some instances.
At the end of the day, it is up to the jury.
This spontaneous paean to juries is prompted by a recently filed letter in the Swenson v. ADT Alarm System case (for the uninitiated, that case has been much covered here, for example). Lawyers for victims of an allegedly malfunctioning/nonfunctioning alarm system are seeking to show the jury reconstructions of the home and a “virtual walk-through” of the killing spree.
Such “demonstrative evidence” probably will cost plaintiffs in the tens of thousands of dollars. Their lawyers’ hope is that such evidence will bring home to the jury just what happened here and the cost, plaintiffs’ counsel no doubt hopes, will “pay for itself…”
Time will tell. The case still might settle, of course. But it is probably safe to say that few if any will envy the task of jurors in cases such as this where juries are essentially asked to set right something that can never be set right, asked to help children and family members recover from losses from which we all know they will never be able to recover.