Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Always Learning

I was in court this morning to do a plea in a theft case.  While waiting to get the paperwork in order, I was able to watch the jury selection in a DUI case.  It turned out to be one of the best voir dires that I have ever heard.

One of the things that made it interesting was the defense attorney's education of the potential jury as to the burden of proof requirements in a criminal case.  As most people know, the state has the burden of proving facts to establish all the elements of a crime, while the defendant has no burden to prove anything.

The defense attorney asked the standard questions:

If my side doesn't even put on a case, would you find him guilty just because of that?  No hands popped up from the jury.

Do you promise to acquit him if you don't feel that the state has proven all the elements of the crime?  All hands held up.

What if the state doesn't put on any case at all, could you still convict him?  At this point, the jurors all raised their hands indicating that they could indeed convict.  That's when the defense attorney told him that they had been tricked and that this goes to the heart of burden of proof.  He then educated them by telling them that the state was required to put on a case, else they were not permitted to return a guilty verdict.

It was really much more effective watching it in the courtroom than it comes across in writing.

Here is the real point - I hadn't been up in a courtroom to watch a case in a very long time.  I used to go watch frequently, but as business picked up I simply didn't have the time to keep that up.  I think that's a mistake.  I think that you learn far more from immersing yourself in the courtroom on a regular basis than you do by taking continuing legal education courses or even by trying cases (you are too wrapped up in your case to really learn - unless you make a mistake, that is.  You always learn from mistakes).

I am seriously considering making it a requirement of this firm that every lawyer attend at least one jury trial per month.  Including me.  I think that would be a great way for each of us to develop, and keep, the skills we need in order to try cases.


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