With Jurors, Make Sure Goodbye Means 'Forever'

May 27, 2016 Published Work
The National Law Journal

In general, once a jury has been discharged, the trial judge cannot recall the jury to reconsider the verdict it rendered. The reasoning behind this principle is that jurors may have discussed the case with others or been exposed to outside influences and may no longer be able to act fairly and without prejudice. In Dietz v. Bouldin, recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices could resolve a circuit split and decide whether to establish a bright-line rule prohibiting recall or grant limited discretion to district judges to recall a discharged jury.

What seems like a straightforward issue raises interesting and difficult questions about the role of the jury, the psychology of being a juror and the advantages and disadvantages of a bright-line rule. It also serves as a reminder to trial counsel to pause, before the judge dismisses the jury, to think through any lingering problems that the jury could correct.

Dietz is a simple car accident case from Montana. The defendant admitted fault, and the parties stipulated that the plaintiff had $10,136 in past medical expenses caused by the accident. The only disputed issue at trial was what future damages should be awarded. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, but awarded $0 in damages. The judge discharged the jury, but a few minutes later realized that — given the stipulated damages — the verdict was invalid.

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