Finished jury duty, how can I learn more about a defense's validity?
November 2, 2015 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I was recently on a jury, and how the defense fought the charge left me with a lot of unanswered questions. I'm dying to learn more, not about that specific case, but about how valid the defense's arguments really were raising valid doubts and how much they were smoke screens trying to confuse and intellectually intimidate the jury. (The two feel very different in my mind, but I'm well aware I may just be being naive.)

I've tried to do some online research, it since it was a dui case and there's a LOT of lawyers out there with "blogs" that are basically advertisements trying to convince people arrested for duis that they can fight this charge. Reading them feels predatorily sleazy.

I'd even be willing to pay a little money (~ $100? Is that way too low?) if I felt I could get real answers, but I'd want to feel like I'm getting answers that are given in good faith. Is that possible?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'd probably be better off researching it in a law library. In particular, there's a legal encyclopedia called Am.Jur. that should get you started. Look for law libraries in your area (any law school will have one, and sometimes even local courts maintain one). Tell the librarian your situation, and they should be able to guide you.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:46 PM on November 2, 2015

There are books on DUI defense that should cover many of the common arguments, especially around attacking the validity of test results. Something like the 1,600 page $300 tome that is Drunk Driving Defense, Seventh Edition might be overkill, but if you can find a copy of this or a similar volume at your local (law) library, you could skim for the parts that seem most relevant.

This will give you a good sense of the defense's "playbook" for pretty much any DUI case.
posted by zachlipton at 2:53 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chat with lawyers? Just a thought but find out if there's a bar that the local attorneys hang and buy a couple drinks.
posted by sammyo at 2:54 PM on November 2, 2015

Might be able to answer some of your questions...MeFi mail me (or shoot me an email criminalist (at)
posted by Captain_Science at 2:59 PM on November 2, 2015

Remember that as a juror, your job was to consider and weigh the evidence, and apply the facts that you and the other jurors found to the law, as per the judge's instructions. You may find that the potential "smoke screens" you mention are defense advocacy strategies rather than questions of law per se.

Also be careful about rules of juror secrecy in contacting others for information.
posted by ageispolis at 3:00 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know how you feel, have had an extremely unsatisfying jury duty myself - in my case it was behaviour inside the jury room, which made follow-up research rather difficult. In addition to the above suggestions, try finding a friend-of-a-friend lawyer who you can buy a dinner or coffee for, or a faculty member at a law school. In the situation you mention (and more generally) putting doubt in the jury's mind is the first objective of the defence, and demonstration/proof (being more difficult) the second. If the prosecution thought the defence arguments went too far, they would challenge/object, then you (as the 'reasonable person in the street') get to weigh both sides of the argument and decide.
posted by GeeEmm at 3:41 PM on November 2, 2015

I bet if you go to a law library and find a defense strategy handbook, it might be of interest.

The whole 'valid doubts' vs 'smoke screen' thing - basically, it is the job of the defense attorney to demonstrate every single way in which the prosecution may be in error, and it's the prosecution's job to have brought in a strong enough case that it can withstand those attempts to take it apart.

Defense attorneys are often portrayed in media as 'difficult' or 'nitpicky' or 'on the side of criminals' when, by the very design of our adversarial system, 'being difficult' with the prosecution is their legal responsibility, and our court system isn't designed to function without them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:06 PM on November 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm a lawyer. There's many lawyers on mefi. If you ask your question here, we'd give it a shot.
posted by falconred at 6:56 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Smokescreening in the hopes a dumb or paranoid juror will hang the jury is very common -- always a shock for people doing jury duty who expect "Law and Order" arguments and instead get 60 minutes of cross on the lab tech who is visibly bored while he says eighteen different ways that he's ran the blood tests the same way every time for ten years.

Remember that most trials aren't people trying to prove innocence, but people facing overwhelming evidence against them whom the prosecutors decided not to offer a good plea bargain or who were offered one and gambled on refusing it.
posted by MattD at 7:50 PM on November 2, 2015

The file is a public record. You could get it at the courthouse. That might tell you something.
posted by kerf at 8:20 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd just ask us. There are a lot of lawyers here, and a lot of criminal defense lawyers specifically, and boy do we love to talk about strategy.
posted by decathecting at 8:47 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Call up the defense lawyer in question. He or she may be perfectly happy to talk to you. I know where I practice, I often wish jurors would contact me afterwards. Feedback is great. In Oregon (and maybe nationally, can't remember how the ABA treats this) lawyers are not allowed to initiate contact with jurors, but if a juror initiates contact, a lawyer can talk freely, although obviously not revealing confidential information.
posted by Happydaz at 11:07 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I prosecuted OWIs for five years and would be happy to answer questions here, and it seems many of my colleagues on the other side of the bar would as well, based on the upthread answers.
posted by notjustthefish at 8:41 AM on November 3, 2015

Former DA here; did plenty of DUIs. Happy to answer questions here or in memail. And in our jurisdiction, if the jury didn't return a verdict too late in the afternoon, the court would often give the jurors a chance to ask the attorneys questions off the record and vice-versa. I always thought it was a great learning experience for everyone involved.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:15 AM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

the court would often give the jurors a chance to ask the attorneys questions off the record and vice-versa

That's… wow. Can't imagine that being allowed in an Australian court. (Former prosecutor too.)
posted by robcorr at 3:42 PM on November 3, 2015

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