In my ongoing research of what jurors think and how they decide cases, I read umpteen blogs, tweets and more authored by those who have served. Even though the original “CSI” television show and its many offshoots are long past (well, mostly), the “CSI effect” is remarkably enduring. One would do well to pay more attention to it.
Simply put, the “CSI effect” is jurors’ overriding, sometimes obsessive, need to explore for themselves every bit of physical evidence in an attempt to come to a fair and just decision. This is true whether the case at hand is civil or criminal. Contracts are scrutinized, emails pored over, and signatures examined with the same zeal as skid marks and bloodstains.
In one trial, for example, jurors requested photos of a victim’s wounds and examined them minutely. Nothing novel there. However, a mechanic among the jurors categorically pronounced the wounds as from a Torx screwdriver, despite the fact that apparently no such screwdriver had been mentioned during the trial. In the absence of being given any more compelling evidence from defense, the rest of the jurors seized on the “Torx” interpretation, and what had been a stalemated jury rapidly became a unanimous plaintiff’s verdict.
What’s the lesson here? That it’s up to you, the attorney, to look at your evidence every which way and give a forceful, compelling, interpretation to your evidence (preferably with visuals for support) such that it cannot be re-interpreted in some unfavorable way by a jury that examines the evidence with a keener eye than yours. Even when there is no way for you or your experts to say with conviction “Here’s the smoking gun!” offer the jurors the strongest probable interpretation that can be drawn from the evidence. Leaving the interpretation up to the jurors is taking a chance you can ill afford when you want to win.