Wasting juror time and costing them money is degrading our system of justice. What can be done now?Seating a jury is difficult in today's fast paced world and is likely to worsen in the coming years.
If you have not recently been to the courthouse to watch a jury selection, know this. The jury system is under siege. Jurors are becoming more and more frustrated with their participation on a jury panel. First, many are not paid, which means they are unable to afford to give justice to those that seek it in the courthouse. Additionally, there is much concern about the archaic and slow manner that judges, attorneys and clients present evidence.
Where a case should take one week, sometimes, it drags on due to courtroom delays, a busy judge and witness delays. Jurors are also not privy to the archaic way in which evidence is required to be submitted. These jurors are right.
New ways to introduce evidence quickly and effectively need to be developed. Contrary to old world methods, the new juror is use to getting information quickly and in a form that allows them to cipher and distill it. Instead they are subjected to slide shows, and witnesses testifying about mundane evidentiary facts simply to admit a document the jury does not even get to see until the end of the case.
The jury system has produced justice not as measured by the ivory tower of a judge but the community at large. Therefore it is worth defending. However, the legislature, judiciary and lawyers have to recognize and change those things that are so annoying to the jury. In short, the work of admission of evidence should be presented to a judge at a pretrial phase. Live testimony on the matters of interest to the parties must be narrowed to the important details that are in dispute. Jury selection must be limited and the transmission of evidence should be done in a way that the jury can review and consider it as the trial continues and at their pace.
If we do not agree as a State to take these steps we are likely to continue to see the system erode, unwillingness of those to serve and worse, the delivery of no justice because the jury wants and needs to get back to their job. Here are some time saving ideas:
Personal injury cases involve medical bills and charges. Days are spent introducing the bills and their reasonableness. Of course jurors will debate the evidence of reasonable without any experience in the area. Why can’t the state simply develop a database of normal charges, and the evidence is admitted or not depending upon this normalcy. We already do this with present value calculations.
In almost all smaller auto v auto cases, a judge can make as informed opinion. Jury trial in these cases can be eliminated and the matter heard before a presiding, acting or retired judge or arbitrator.
In cases that involve small damages, complex areas of the law and other such matters, a pretrial evidentiary hearing can and should be done to reduce the matters in controversy at trial. This trial should allow the parties in front of the judge present the issues in controversy and those issues that are not in controversy can be deemed admitted before seating a jury.
There are thousands of ways to make the system fair and impartial and yet fast and efficient. We should expedite the way that we use jurors and make sure their time and sacrifice are respected. Otherwise we will find ourselves without a jury system at all.