A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Today I Become Juror 885

It will be my third time.

The first time I got as far as being brought down to a criminal courtroom and after answering in the affirmative that I knew almost the entire list of names of lawyers and law enforcement officers read off by the judge, he looked over (having not seen me enter the courtroom), and said "get out of here."

My second time was in the civil division, and for some reason, by 11:00 that day it was determined that none of the civil lawyers wanted to go to trial.

Today I'm back in criminal. Last time was I think 15 years ago. This time there's a chance that someone I used to work with in the public defender's office (maybe even someone who started after me) or one of my adversaries from the state attorney's office will be presiding, and that I may not know the prosecutor.

They've summoned me for 8:00 a.m., but I know all too well that it won't be until at least 9:30 or later that some judge calls for some of us. I'll be there sometime after 8, as I don't have to find parking, or the jury assembly room, nor will I have a slew of questions like "where are the restrooms," "can I use my cell phone in here," and "do you validate?"

I'll have my laptop, and assume shortly after I sit down and start typing that some nice person sitting next to me with a popular author's latest novel in paperback will look over and ask "are you a lawyer?" Ten minutes later I'll know all about this person's life, and they'll be happy I was able to give them a decent lunch recommendation.

I probably could have gotten out of this, but it's against my principles. Part of being a criminal defense lawyer, as much a part as waking up in the morning, is getting the panicked call from anyone who knows you that gets a summons for jury service. And yes, I used to give them advice on how to get out of it. No one ever took it. For some reason, they all panicked and showed up. I not only stopped for that reason, but because I realized it was wrong.

I sit in courtrooms nodding in the affirmative while listening to judges thank jurors for their service and talk about the importance of jury service and how we need people to serve. There I was though, being a lawyer and giving advice on how to legally avoid jury service. I was being a hypocrite and I knew it. Now when I get the call, I have the same script. "I don't tell people how to get out of jury service. I think you should go, it's important." They don't like it, but I don't care. Call me Mr. Goody Two Shoes.

Jury service has changed in the last few years. Coincidentally, as I sit here on the eve of my arrival in the jury assembly room, my pal Fred Grimm wrote a lengthy article in the Miami Herald on the issues of social media and jury trials:

U.S. judges have declared a slew of mistrials in the past few years caused by jurors doing their own research or for posting real time narratives of their jury experiences with text messages or Twitter or Facebook postings.

Grimm continues:

Lawyers worry that the Internet, with its great onslaught of hearsay information and social networking, crushes the principle that jurors deliberate in a kind of intellectual isolation, considering only evidence and testimony that has been scrutinized by judges.

In the article, Grimm quotes another friend, Professor Ricardo Bascuas, on his observations regarding today's jurors:

“Everyone’s so focused on themselves,” said Bascuas, who won’t allow his law students to bring electronic gadgets into his lectures. Miscreant jurors, he said, “are so busy tweeting about themselves, about whatever experiences they’re having, that they can’t seem to understand the seriousness of the enterprise. It’s called jury duty,” he said. “It’s not about themselves. We live in this modern culture where everybody wants to be the story,” he said. “But not everything you do is fascinating.”

Well, Professor Bascuas obviously hasn't been spending enough time on social media to understand that some people believe everything they do is fascinating. This notion is validated by those who make sure the person who posts said fascinating information about themselves is congratulated on posting the self-perceived fascinating information.

Today, when I enter the criminal courthouse, not as a defense lawyer, but as juror 885, I will not tweet about my experience. I will not post about it on Facebook. Tomorrow I am under orders to appear and serve and I will do so as I would want a juror for my client to behave. When it's over, I may have some things to say, but we have a problem in our jury system, a system that decides whether someone is convicted or set free, is given money, or told they must pay, or whether someone lives or dies.

Juror 885 will not be a part of that problem. I swear.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.


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Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.


  1. Anonymous11:08 PM

    I vividly remember the personal injury lawyer that was in my jury pool one day on a PI case. And he sat there and talked himself out of service.

    I wanted to reach out and throttle the guy.


  2. Your willingness to serve as "Juror 885" is admirable. However, how can you say that your personal experience as a criminal lawyer will not impact how you decide the case?

    Doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, who wind up on a jury are told that they must not rely on their personal knowledge or experience. Rather, they must determine the veracity of any expert witnesses as if they, themselves, were lay people who were unschooled in the medical arts. I think this is absurd. It is equally absurd to think that a lawyer--not just a lawyer, but an experienced criminal litigator--can put aside his training and whatever knowledge gleaned from years of practice, and become the proverbial "reasonable and prudent man."

    Another problem is that anyone who has tried a fair number of cases will wonder why an attorney fails to object when we think he should. We might also want to question the judge's rulings, grab one [or both] of the attorneys by the throat and tell them how to do a direct or cross examination, etc. In other words, we cannot pretend to be something we are not. How would you deal with that, in the unlikely event that you actually wind up sitting as a juror?