Crime & Federalism

Civil rights and criminal law, federalism, and Section 1983

June 09, 2005

Why Do We Lie To Juries?

Norm Pattis

I live in a small state, so as the years progress, I find myself bumping into former jurors with increasing frequency. It happened twice just the other week. And I had to lie to the jurors.

One juror presided over a landmark civil rights case: $3.2 million in damages in a reverse discrimination case on behalf of some white firefighters in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. He told me how nice it was to see me outside the courtroom, and relayed that several jurors thought the award far too low.

I did not tell him the bitter truth. The case settled for less than full value after trial. Why? Never trust a judge when looking at big money for little people. Remittitur, new trial motions, you name it: there are lots of ways for a court to undo a jury's verdict.

A few days later, another juror and I met. In his case, the jury awarded $1.5 million to the highest ranking black female firefighter in the history of the New Haven Fire Department.

"How did [the plaintiff] feel when she collected the money?" he asked. I did not have the heart to tell him that the case was still on appeal, and that the city has accused the jury of giving too much.

All this jive and junk about small town juries giving too much is bunk. We empanel jurors and tell them they are the conscience of the community. Then we lie to them with straight faces: Hide the insurer, withhold truths about governmental indeminification, empower them with balderdash about their historic roles -- and then slash their verdicts when their backs are turned.

Do small town juries give too much money?

What a silly question.

Juries react to the evidence presented. When a corporation or an individual behaves like a pig, the corporation or individual is led to slaughter. We kill some criminal defendants, and incarcerate many others for decades, in response to discrete acts.

Let some corporation get gutted and all Hell breaks lose.

Blaming juries makes no sense. If we can't live with the consequences of submitting cases to the people, then let's be honest about it. The fault is not with juries. The fault is that we are hypocrites and refuse to tell jurors the truth about their role and the probable consequences of their decisions.

June 9, 2005

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