Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Do Jurors Need Tools?

Monica Davey & Susan Salney, "Jurors Fault Complexity of the Blagojevich Trial," NYTimes (August 18, 2010):
As the jurors in the corruption case against Rod R. Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor, entered a 25th-floor conference room here, one problem was instantly clear: They were overwhelmed. The judge had handed them instructions that ran to more than a hundred pages. The verdict sheet was as elaborate as some income tax forms. And many of the 24 counts they were being asked to consider came in multiple parts and were highly technical and interconnected.

"It was like, 'Here’s a manual, go fly the space shuttle,'" Steve Wlodek, one of the jurors, said Wednesday. Jurors said it took them several days just to figure out how to begin to break down their assignment into manageable tasks — not to mention how to understand the legal terminology (what exactly is conspiracy to commit extortion?). These were early hints of the multiple stumbling blocks they would find as they struggled, but failed, over 14 days of deliberations, to reach a verdict on any of the counts but one.
Was the problem mainly complexity? Or was the problem mainly that the jurors were not given tools for managing the complex task they were asked to perform?
The article reports that the jurors used Post-it notes. Could they have been given something more flexible and comprehensive?
Did the jurors have a simple computer with, say, Word at their disposal? Would that have helped them manage their assignment?
The article reports, unsurprisingly I think, that the jurors developed their own tools:
After initial frustration and confusion upon arriving in the deliberation room with little sense of what to do next, the jurors laid out a plan. 
On large sheets of paper, they wrote down crimes Mr. Blagojevich was accused of committing, and taped each one on the walls around the room. On the sheets: a claim that he had sought political contributions in exchange for legislation to help a local pediatric hospital; another that he had sought a political fund-raising event in exchange for state financing for a school; another that he had sought payments for a law that would benefit the horse racing industry; and so on.
The jurors did pretty much what any rational person would do when faced with the many questions they had to resolve.


The dynamic evidence page
It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

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