Articles Tagged with jury

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Alabama Accident & Injury LawyersLast week, Madison County re-started civil jury trials. After months of coronavirus shutdowns, it’s nice to be back at the courthouse. Now, I’m not writing to debate the wisdom of re-opening or not. I’m OK waiting longer for more vaccinations. Public health and safety should be our top priority. As a community, we should each take the steps needed to protect our neighbors. But, again, I’m not writing about the issue of shutdowns.

When the court did re-open this week in Huntsville, one of our car accident injury cases was number one on the docket. First up for trial! We prepare our personal injury cases. We’ve been prepared in this Huntsville accident case for months. Ready to go. It was good to finish the case for our client. Our client patiently waited through recent months as have so many other people.

Maybe you are asking — Why did the case not settle? While most cases eventually settle, some do not. Sometimes, cases should not settle. Maybe the insurance company adjuster ignored the extent of injuries or damages. Maybe the insurance company is taking advantage of courthouse closures to delay and deny justice.

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Years ago, an engineer friend of mine served on a jury in a personal injury case. Later, he told me that during the entire process he (and several other jurors) believed information was not being provided them. They were right. Sometimes evidence is not admitted at trial and not seen by the jury. Our evidence rules are designed to prevent evidence that is not relevant or too prejudicial from being considered. But, sometimes the same rules also prevent the jury from hearing evidence needed to tell the full story.

If you have been hurt and need a lawyer, you need one with trial experience. Procedural and evidentiary rules can be complex. Your lawyer needs to know the rules and how to apply them quickly in trial situations. Unfortunately, many of the lawyers now advertising for automobile accident cases do not go to court. Some have never been to trial. They would not know how to argue a case effectively in a courtroom. Insurance companies know which lawyers will go to trial and it impacts the settlement offered you. When hiring a lawyer, you should absolutely ask questions about real trial experience.

What is one big issue kept secret from the jury? At trial, the jury is never told that the defendant actually has insurance. The rules in Alabama, and many other jurisdictions, forbid the jury from being informed about the defendant’s insurance coverage.

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Alabama Accident & Injury LawyersDoes the number of jurors on a panel matter? Does it affect the fairness of the panel in deciding cases? Moreover, does justice require a unanimous verdict? Or, asked another way, does justice require that one lone dissenter prevent a jury panel from deciding a case? These questions have long been debated by legal scholars. Jury practices vary between different jurisdictions and these questions are not just ones for theoretical debate. Instead, these questions present an opportunity to discuss our court system and how it will continue to operate in the best manner to administer justice fairly in our community.

Yesterday, the New York Times published an opinion piece on the budget crisis facing state courts throughout the United States. I’ve written about Alabama’s budget problems on several prior occasions. I certainly would not advocate altering our jury system simply based on cost. Justice is too important. However, if the ends of justice could just as equally be obtained with a 6 person panel as opposed to a 12 person panel, then the issue is one that should be considered. So, it’s an interesting debate.

Recently, the Alabama Association for Justice (AAJ) asked me to write a short statement on the issue. My memo to the AAJ is too lengthy to include here in its entirety. But, I did find some interesting statistics and research quotes to get a debate started. To begin, fixing the number of jurors at 12 is largely traditional and dates from medieval times. In Alabama, that number appears to have been simply accepted as the correct number with little or no thought. Yet, in the 1970’s, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue and held that 6 member juries were valid under the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that:

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Alabama Accident & Injury LawyersWe learn in school the right to a jury trial is fundamental. Yet, that basic right suffers constant attacks and problems from many sides. Special interest groups seek to limit accountability for misconduct. Lobbyists work to corrupt the system. Legislators in Alabama (and many other states) chronically underfund our Courts. Our court personnel work hard to provide fair trials with limited resources. While I’ve discussed many of these problems in past articles, today I want to talk about a practical issue that sometimes interferes with the court’s ability to conduct trials – the importance of having enough potential jurors present for trial.

This morning, the Huntsville Times ran an article about a local case that had to be continued due to a lack of potential jurors. The local case involves a proposed rock quarry and claim for damages against a local municipality. Naturally, it’s a high profile case. In high profile cases, it’s difficult to find impartial jurors under ideal circumstances. That’s understandable. Residents living in and around a proposed quarry may have deep feelings on the issue. Bias for one side might prevent their service on the jury.

Yet, it appears the problem is not simply one of finding unbiased jurors. Instead, it’s a problem of starting numbers – too few people to even select a jury. Several civil jury trials were set in Madison County this week, including this high-profile quarry case. Yet, according to the newspaper article, only 90 potential jurors were available for all these cases. That’s too few to provide panels for all the scheduled cases. It’s far too few people when one of those cases also brings publicity and bias.

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