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Why We Settle Sometimes -OR- Taking It To The Box

| Feb 1, 2013 | Civil Rights |

Almost every case, criminal or civil, will end up settling before it goes to a jury trial. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the legal system is perilous, trials are expensive, and juries (like some dogs) can turn on you. But why? Why would my lawyer ever advise me to plead?

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Well, for lots of reasons. First of all, TV-worthy “A-HA!” moments are few and far between. Jury trials can be pretty boring, and bored people don’t pay attention. What’s so boring? Well, for starters, the mandatory instructions that the poor judge is forced to read to every jury, at every trial, for what must seem like forever and ever and ever. Imagine reading this out loud for the 317th time and trying to sound enthused:

In regard to the trier of fact, reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary, or forced doubt. If, after carefully considering, comparing, and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable.

That’s not just boring — it’s confusing, too. Remember, the jury isn’t reading that to themselves. They’re listening to it while sitting on uncomfortable chairs, looking at the rest of the people in the courtroom, and wondering what the defendant did. As a result, juries frequently don’t understand what they are doing. In one study, half of jury members didn’t understand that the defendant doesn’t need to prove him- or herself innocent. Only a third of jurors understand the judge’s definitions, and a terrifying 86 percent of criminal jurors don’t know what constitutes proof of guilt. When jurors are tested on the things they should absolutely know after hearing the instructions, most of them score about 40 percent.

To summarize, then: The jury of your peers that will decide your guilt or innocence is quite possibly ignorant, bored, and confused.

Why would you trust your freedom to a group of people if two out of three of them don’t have the basic knowledge needed to decide your fate? You wouldn’t – unless you had nothing to lose or your lawyer told you to.

A trial is expensive and risky for a defendant. That means it’s profitable and exciting for your lawyer. If you hired a lawyer, you ought to trust that lawyer. If you trust your lawyer, you should listen to them — especially if what he’s saying is, in effect, “Keep your money — a trial isn’t in your best interest.”