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Keeping his eye on the news and offering commentaries and insights on what is happening in Oakland County, around the world, on the tube and in the news.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sudoku mistrial?

Yes, it really happened.
In Australia, The Associated Press reported in a story posted on our
site's Courts and Cops section on Tuesday, a judge ceased a lengthy
drug trial after it turned out that several jurors were playing
Sudoku during testimony.
The trial had been going for 66 days and had cost an estimated
$950,000 to conduct, but it has to be restarted because the judge
felt the jurors could not be fair as they may have missed crucial
Too bad, but it is human nature to let the mind wander. Jurors, it is
thought by some, have an easy job because all they do is sit and
listen and then decide. The prosecutors and defense attorneys have
the difficult job because they have to prove or convince the jury of
However, I have to say that sitting and listening can be plenty tough
because trials and evidence sometimes just go on and on and on. I
covered the courts for four years, and many times during lengthy
trials you knew generally what the evidence was and knew what was
going to be said. But technically, the medical examiner has to
explain everything about the autopsy, even though the violent nature
of the death was not questioned.
In this trial in Australia, the judge should have noticed what the
jurors were doing before it reached this length of time. He had
assumed they were taking notes, but he finally questioned that
because some of the note-taking was vertical and not horizontal.
But the prosecutors also should have broken up the presentation of
the evidence enough to give the jurors a chance to digest it and move
on. Going on and on seemingly non-stop can make concentration difficult.
I have on occasion done a Sudoku in court, having brought our paper
to read while spending the day at the courthouse. Mostly, it was done
during hearings, when I waited through other cases for the one I was
covering to start. But if I'm writing a story about a trial, I can
only use the most interesting witnesses and there are witnesses I
know would not make it into the story. So I listened patiently but
let my mind wander.
Now, I know jurors are supposed to consider all the evidence
carefully, not planning for a story where the most interesting or
dramatic evidence is considered. But in the jury room, they
prioritize the evidence. They'll weigh the physical evidence against
the alibi, for instance. All the evidence about the nature of the
drug business and the chemical analysis of what was found will be
hardly mentioned.
Sometimes, complicated trials require lengthy testimony from many
witnesses. But the ones putting on the trial owe it to themselves to
consider the jurors' mindsets. Lawyers can get too caught up in
providing everything possible, forgetting that overwhelming the jury
could backfire and lead to jurors believing that there's no case
because they're trying to hard.
And learning that jurors are doing Sudoko? Maybe the judge and
prosecutor should have wondered what jurors were thinking sometime
around Day 60 — if not Day 20. It's bad enough to yank them from
their lives for months, but it is too much to demand 100 percent
concentration for that entire time.
Boring is boring, and a 'crucial' embezzlement trial is 'boring.' Too
bad, but human nature cannot be forgotten.


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