A 20 year old case of a pizza delivery man who was killed in Long Beach, California has come to a close. But it is not the verdict that everyone was waiting for. The case has been closed as the judge declared a mistrial on Thursday, since crucial evidence related to the case did not come to light until late Monday; just days before the announcement on Thursday. This is a brilliant example of how procedural errors in a lawsuit can result in a mistrial and pour all the hardwork put in the by the attorneys and the client down the drain.
A procedural error is one way to cause a mistrial. Another very easy way of getting your case thrown out of court is to attempt to make contact with the jurors. We have all seen the movies where the 12 empanelled jury members are made to stay in sequestration. John Grisham’s novel “Runaway Jury” has a plot based on jury sequestration. But this is not just the stuff of movies or fantastical books―in reality too, the jurors are supposed to stay away from the attorneys and the clients whose trial they are judging. This is done in order to ensure that no one can unduly influence the jury and manipulate the outcome of jury decisions.
So, even a small hello can be cause for concern?
Yes, that is so. Take the court in Nassau County, Long Island, for example. There is a cafeteria in the basement of the court where it is common to find jurors, and attorneys and their clients having lunch together. Of course they can all go out to lunch separately but sometimes, it is easier to just go down to the basement and have a quick bite.
A Clear Separation
Even in this seemingly casual atmosphere, there is a distinct line drawn between the jurors and the others. Attorneys do not talk to the jurors except outside the courtroom when are in a voir dire, or presenting the facts of the case. And if you think that this rule applies only to lawyers, think again. The law forbids the plaintiffs and defendants from talking to the jurors as well. Even a simple ‘Hello’ can cause the opposing party’s lawyer to ask for a mistrial. And in most cases, the Judge will grant his wish and throw your case out the window. And that’s the right way to avoid a mistrial!
No Crossing this Line
There are specific reasons why the jury is shielded from any external influence – it ensures a fair trial. Attorneys follow this rule to the T (or they risk losing a winning case), but as a party in the trial you need to know that you too have certain responsibilities, failing which you can cause your own case to be to thrown out the window. In the eyes of the law, ignorance is not always akin to innocence. So, think carefully the next time you see a juror sauntering down the corridor. Ignore that impulse to say a cheery hello – it is only for the best!