Can Jurors See and Hear Your Most Important Evidence?

If you try enough cases, you’ll eventually get your hands on “It.”   “It” is that amazing piece of evidence that makes or breaks your case.  “It” takes on many different forms:

  • The “Are you lying then or are you lying now?” prior inconsistent statement
  • The “I did it, and I’d do it again!” confession
  • The video of the “disabled” plaintiff easily lifting 50 lb. bags of mulch or participating in semi-professional wrestling matches
  • The “smoking gun” email that proves the defendant knew about the potential danger and decided to cover it up rather than recall the product

It” is that piece of evidence that you can’t wait to show to the jury.  You won’t have “It” in every case, but when you do, it’s a wonderful feeling.  You know that as soon as you show “It” to the jury, the case will be won.

But hold on just a second.  There’s something important you should know before you show “It” to the jury.

No matter how damning that prior inconsistent statement may be, it’s worthless if the jury can’t hear it.  Even if your video completely contradicts the plaintiff’s claims, it’s worthless if the jury can’t see it.  Some jurors are too embarrassed to admit they can’t hear the recording, can’t read your exhibit, or can’t see your video.  You need to be assured that they see and hear “It.”  Here’s how to do it:

My, what big ears you have!1. How to guarantee that the jury hears every word of your recorded statement. As you start playing the audio recording, cup your hand over your ear and make eye contact with each and every juror.  Non-verbally, you’re asking them if they can hear the statement.  If they can hear it, they’ll nod their heads in agreement or give you a “thumbs-up” sign.  If they can’t hear, they’ll give you a non-verbal clue to raise the volume (or maybe even tell you, “Turn it up, I can’t hear!”)

Here’s an added benefit: Making eye contact with each juror forces you to “check in” with them, so you can evaluate how things are going.

2. How to guarantee that the jury sees your video. Get to the courtroom early and set up your video display.  Turn on your video, then climb into the jury box.  Sit in every seat in the jury box so you can see what your jurors will see.  Do you need to crane your neck to see the video?  When you move to the end of each row, does it become difficult to see the video screen?  Is the screen too close?  Too far?  Make any adjustments now, before the jury gets here, so you can be assured that they’ll see your evidence.

Once you start playing the video for the jury, you’ll want to repeat the step outlined above to ensure that they can hear the recording.  While you’re making eye contact with each juror, track their sightline.  Can they actually see the video?  Are they actually looking at it?  If not, make any necessary adjustments so they can view your evidence.

3. How to guarantee that the jury reads your exhibit. If you’re presenting written exhibits to the jury (such as posters of the jury instructions or blow-ups of contract highlights) you want to make sure the jury actually reads your exhibit.  To make sure they have enough time to read it, quietly read through the entire exhibit to yourself twice. You’re already familiar with the exhibit, so you’re going to read through it faster than your jurors will.  After your second read-through, take a moment to make eye contact with every juror.  Look at their eye movement.  If they’re looking at you, they’re ready for you to proceed.  But if you see they’re still reading, don’t say anything yet.  Wait until everyone has finished reading before you or your witness say anything about the exhibit.

If you’ve done your homework, you already know how to make “It” admissible.  You also know when you should publish “It” for maximum persuasive effect.  Now just follow these simple tips, and you’ll guarantee that jurors will see and hear your most important evidence.

Exhibits and Adverse Witnesses

Yesterday I was watching the Casey Anthony case and I saw a classic example of what you’d call an “antagonistic” witnesss.

During opening statements, the defense attorney accused the defendant’s father of sexually molesting her when she was 8 years old and said that the father was involved in covering up the death of his 3 year old grand daughter.  As you can imagine, the father wasn’t too happy about it.

Now, one day later, the father is on the witness stand (for the second time) and the defense attorney is cross-examining him (for the second time).

The tension in the courtroom is palpable.  There’s no love lost between these two, and in fact, no one in the courtroom would be surprised if the father jumped out of the witness stand and tried to punch his first through the attorney’s skull.

He is (as you probably would be if you were in the same situation), a very antagonistic witness.

In a million years, do you think that he’d ever try to help the defense attorney’s case?

Yet, in spite of all of the hatred that probably exists between the two of them, the defense attorney acts as if he expects the father to help him out.

What exactly does he do?

He sets up some gigantic calendar pages on an easel, and then asks the Court’s permission to have the father step down from the witness stand and fill in some dates on the calendar pages.

First of all, when you think that a witness really hates you, you probably shouldn’t ask them to step down from the witness stand…  it makes it too easy for them to take a swing at you!

And, of course, you don’t want to put any type of stabbing weapon, like a marker, in their hands.

But even if the witness isn’t intent on killing you, it’s just risky trial advocacy to ask an opposing witness to step down and write on your exhibits.

Remember, during cross-examination, YOU are the star of the show.  You get to use the only tool in your arsenal, the leading question, to tell your winning story through your opponent’s witnesses.  The leading question is the only tool you have to maintain control during cross-examination.

And control is an essential part of cross-examination.  You don’t want to cede control to the witness…  who knows what he might say or do if you put him in the driver’s seat!

So, back to our courtroom situation…

What could possibly go wrong by asking an opposing witness to step down and write on your exhibits during cross-examination?

Well, a couple of things.

First, the witness can go berserk and write all over your exhibits.  Not likely, but hey, it could happen.

Next, even if he’s not going to go nuts, you’re still giving him the opportunity to become the star of the show and to direct the jury’s attention towards matters that he thinks are important.  Rather than putting a simple “X” on the calendar, he can write a more lengthy response, or phrase it in such a way that it doesn’t help your case.

Third, by asking the witness to step down from the witness stand, you’re asking the jurors to focus their attention on him, rather than you.  Their eyes will be drawn to him because he’s moving (which breaks up the visual boredom of a trial), but also because, when you give him a marker and stand him up before the jury, you put him in the role of “The Teacher” — do you really want them to see your opposing witness in that light?

Why let him have control or the spotlight, even for a moment?  During cross, you want to direct the action and control the tempo.

What would I have recommended instead?

Well, first of all, I have to say that the idea of using gigantic calendar pages is a great idea, since it (literally) puts everyone in the courtroom on the same page when discussing the timeline in the case.

However, rather than asking him to step down from the witness stand and write on the board, I would recommend maintaining control with a combination of leading questions and body language:

Q: “The last day you saw your grand daughter was June 15th, right?”

A: “Yes.”

Then move over to your giant calendar and mark on the June 15th date to indicate the event.

It’s not a major difference, but it prevents the witness from expanding his answers or becoming a “teacher” to the jury.  By maintaining control throughout your cross-examination, YOU will be the star of cross-examination, and will be able to tell your winning story through your opponent’s witnesses.

Good luck!

The Trial Lawyer’s Library

When I began my career as a trial lawyer, I had no idea what books I was supposed to read.  There were hundreds of thousands of books in my law school library, but I wasn’t sure which ones were most important to developing my trial advocacy skills.  I read thousands of thousands of pages, looking for the best trial advocacy tips and techniques, and wasted a lot of time, energy, and money in the process.

Hopefully, this list will help you shortcut the process that I went through. In this article, you’ll find my recommendations for the books that a trial lawyer should read and digest.   You’ll note that I didn’t include books on trial advocacy, and that was done on purpose.  There are hundreds of trial advocacy books worth reading (as someone who dedicates yourself to improving your trial advocacy skills, you probably already have at least a dozen or more books on the subject, right?).  Instead, these books are intended to expand your horizons, maximize skills that weren’t developed in law school, and help you get the most out of your persuasive skills.

Influence, by Robert Cialdini
Want to know how to influence jurors?  This is the definitive text on the subject.  Includes persuasive techniques to improve your entire case presentation, from pre-trial preparations to closing arguments, as well as techniques for improving your pre-trial negotiations.

On Writing, by Stephen King
Great tips for telling stories and presenting more effective opening statements.  Replace the word “reader” with “juror” and you’ll feel like the book was written specifically for trial lawyers.

Remember Everything You Read: The Evelyn Wood 7-Day Speed Reading & Learning Program
You read thousands and thousands of pages while preparing for trial — this will help you do it faster and remember more of what you read!

Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
The entire book should be mandatory reading for everyone who enters the business world, but there are great lessons for trial lawyers, too.  Focus on Ch. 1 (Desire) to see what it takes to become a great trial lawyer, and Ch. 9 (Power of the Master Mind) for assistance improving your trial advocacy skills.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
If you intend to make a career out of persuading jurors, you probably already have a dog-eared copy of this book on your bookshelf.  You’ll learn more about pre-trial negotiations and trial advocacy from this book than you did from your entire law school education.

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
If you believe that trials are war and the courtroom is your battlefield, this book will help you prepare your battle plan for success.

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
Each morning, as soon as you wake up, “Resistance” attempts to keep you from being the best courtroom advocate that you can be.  This book shows you how to break past “Resistance” and excel at your profession.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
Losing a trial is not the end of the world.  This book will help you get through the rough patches, especially if you lose a case, lose a client, or get dissuaded with the practice of law.

Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking, by Dale Carnegie
You speak for a living, so why not improve your presentation skills?   Loaded with great tips for improving your presentations to judges and jurors alike.

The Memory Book, by Harry Lorayne
If the correct objection or impeachment fact isn’t instantly available to you during trial, it’s worthless.  This book will help you improve your memory so that you can be more effective during trial.

The New Way Things Work, by David Macauley
An effective method of getting your ideas across involves the use of diagrams or images.   In this book, David Macauley shows you how hundreds of devices work.   With a combination of words and images, he makes difficult concepts easy to understand.  Using the same techniques, you can help your jurors understand complex issues and facts in your case.

Aesop’s Fables, by Aesop
This book contains dozens of valuable themes for use in your next trial.   By weaving these fables into your closing argument, you’ll help jurors immediately understand the underlying values of your arguments and see why your client deserves to win.

I’m sure that there are dozens of other useful books that I overlooked.  If you know of a book that other trial lawyers will find valuable, please take a moment to post a comment including your recommendation.