How does an attorney interact with a jury in a trust litigation or elder financial abuse civil case in the California Superior Court system? Dave Jones, a Hackard Law trial lawyer experienced in estate, trust, and probate litigation, explains how an attorney approaches a jury with the truth of a case foremost in mind:
The way I like to approach a jury is to think of them as I would anybody I'd meet at a bar or a party at a friend's house and try and look at them as being new friends--people that I want to get to know a little bit better. A lot of attorneys seem to fear a jury and it shows in that very first meeting with the jury when they're trying to pick a jury. And that's not something that is ideal is the first impression somebody you're trying to meet such as the jury.
In voir dire which is the very first step of meeting the jury is where the attorneys get to talk to the jury and ask questions to the jury and get to know them a bit. But you also got to remember the jury's game to know you a bit too so that's why I like to approach it more as a give-and-take and more as a friendly relationship rather than a attorney questioning somebody who might be a juror.
Following jury selection, we move into the opening of the case. That is after you've picked the jury and they're sitting there and they've been sworn in and they're sitting there listening to the evidence in the case. The opening is your first opportunity to tell the jury what your case is about and I like to approach that as a very non- argumentative, non-preaching kind of opening. I just like to lay the facts out, let the jury know what they're going to hear throughout the trial, and give them some idea about how the evidence is going to come into the trial and allow them to have a framework to put all the facts into.
Next, we get into direct examination of our witnesses. And for this I always try to keep myself out of the picture as much as possible. It's about the witness telling their story to the jury. And to do that we have to constantly remind the witness, who usually is not a professional witness, that they need to be talking to the jury in trying to make that connection with the jury themselves.
For cross examination, we try to not be too argumentative with the other witness because that's not what it's about. It's about getting the facts out and if the facts are on our side it doesn't matter whether you're argumentative or not. We want to be as friendly as we can toward the other witness. Get them to give the information that's helpful to our case while being kind and considerate to them, as well, because most of the time witnesses aren't there trying to do something bad. They're just trying to get the facts out that they remember to the best of their ability and it's not necessarily them having any animosity toward you or your client. So we want the jury to see that there's no animosity between us and that witness.
Then finally we get to closing. Closing is actually the only time we're legally allowed to argue in front of the jury and that's actually makes it a little bit fun. We get to tell our story and why we think the evidence showed what we believe it should show from the beginning. That's our chance to tie together the opening, the directs, the cross-examination, and show how that meshes with the law in such a way that our side should prevail.
What a lot of attorneys don't seem to remember is that juries are smart. They're...they're made up of everyone. Your teachers, your co- workers, your family members. They can smell a lie. They can tell truth from fiction and we need to trust in that and put our trust in the jury and let them understand that we trust them to make the right decision in this case.
That's how we like to approach juries here at Hackard Law. If you have any questions or would like to talk to us about any case that you may have, please feel free to give us a call at 916-313-3030.