In Colorado, as in most states, the law governs the conduct of jurors while serving and deliberating in a case. This law is much more complicated than the instructions read to the jury at the beginning, during and end of a case. Generally speaking, the law seeks to protect the ‘integrity’ of the trial process. The jury is ideally composed of non-biased individuals who will judge the merits of a case solely on the evidence in light of the law of the case, as explained and set forth in detail in the ‘jury instructions’ which are read to and handed to the jury before deliberations begin. Jurors should not attempt to ‘lawyer’ or ‘investigate’ a case. This is to control the process, to ensure the integrity of the trial and fairness to the parties.
Often times, evidence and the law leaves jurors confused. It is tempting to go outside the courtroom in some manner, whether it be a visit to a local library, newspaper, or the world-wide web/internet. Such forays outside of the courtroom often violate the rules of law read to a jury in regard to the conduct of their deliberations. This is called ‘juror misconduct.’
Other Types of Juror Misconduct
Other instances of juror misconduct include contact with the parties or their lawyers. Experienced trial lawyers should know (and their clients, the parties, should be instructed) to never have any direct personal contact with a juror before or during a trial (unless permitted and approved by the judge beforehand). Personal contact can include things such as looks, winks, or other body language and references. The result of juror misconduct is generally a mistrial, and the cost to the parties and the judicial administration is considerable even in the smaller cases. In large cases with multiple witness and vast sums spent on preparation for trial, it can be a financial disaster.
The Results of Juror Misconduct
The law places the responsibility on someone when juror misconduct occurs, but rarely does the offending juror face the consequences. The financial consequence usually falls on the shoulders of the party or lawyer involved. Many times, the cost of a trial is so significant that the ‘mistrial’ can deprive a party of their day in court. Juror misconduct should be avoided at all costs, to preserve the integrity of the judicial system.
Lawyers at Avery Law Firm are experienced enough to know that lawyers and jurors should pass ‘like ships in the night’ when a trial is in progress. In those rare instances where juror contact occurs, lawyers are ethically obligated to immediately inform the bailiff or Judge. Hearings will take place, and a record is made for purposes of appeal. Sometimes, the Judge will call the involved juror to the witness stand to comment on the circumstances and make a record.
Juror Misconduct Can Lead to a Mistrial
Sometimes, juror misconduct is discovered after deliberations cease and the trial is completed. In such instances, a mistrial or new trial can be declared. Again, significant expense can occur, and a party can lose a favorable verdict.
Jurors often want to communicate with lawyers and parties. Such communications must take place, if at all, in accordance with the rules of law governing trials. Most often, such communications should occur after the conclusion of the trial and the jury has been discharged. After trial, it is generally acceptable for a juror to communicate with a lawyer or party, whether it be related to the trial or a personal matter.