Keeping jurors engaged during trials that stretch from hours to days and even weeks is a challenge during even the most compelling and important cases. So, one county court has decided to do something to address this issue by leveraging the power of technology to spur juror engagement.
Before a trial, each juror downloads a specific application to their smartphone. If a particular juror does not have a smartphone or chooses not to download the application to their phone, one is provided to them at no charge for the duration of the trial.
The application has several features that are used during trial to help maintain juror focus.
One of these features allows the jurors to provide real-time feedback to the attorneys. During a particular line of questioning, a juror can make a selection on a continuum to indicate their level of engagement, from thrilled to bored to hostile. The results across the jury are combined and charted in real-time on a large flat-screen monitor behind the witness box.
“The juror’s love to be able to express immediately how they are feeling about a particular question, or the questioning generally,” said application developer Appleye Pod. “We actually got the idea from the polling of voters done in real-time during political debates. This kind of feedback benefits everyone involved in the process.”
This feature also allows particular attorneys to modify their approach to ensure that the jurors remain engaged and interested.
One attorney said: “You could really tell that the jury was paying attention. I remember as I started down one particular line of questioning, I saw from the monitor that the jurors generally became very dissatisfied. I made several adjustments to the direction of my questions and was able to instantaneously correct that dissatisfaction.”
Another feature allows the jurors to anonymously express confusion. During the course of a trial a juror can simply click an icon that reads “I’m totally lost.” This in turn registers with the judge. When a critical mass (75% of the jurors) self-identify as bewildered, the judge will interrupt the proceedings and resolve the confusion.
One juror, after using this feature explained, “It was great. We were all totally lost and the questioning seemed to go on forever. We had no idea what the point was and barely understood the questions ourselves. When the judge became aware of this, because of the app, he helped clear up all our confusion and the trial was able to proceed.”
The final feature is designed to keep the attorneys participating in a trial from becoming too unlikeable. Jurors can make a selection to indicate general displeasure with a particular counsel. As with the previous feature, when too many jurors express displeasure with an attorney, that attorney is given a warning. If the jurors continue to find this attorney’s behavior offensive, the attorney is “voted off the island.” The judge then demands that the attorney be replaced and another must proceed in that attorney’s stead.
One judge said, “we don’t want a particular verdict to be influenced simply because the jurors think that one particular attorney is obnoxious. In fact, I occasionally wish judges could use this feature, as well. Since we have implemented this technology, I’ve found that counsel for each party seems to be making a great effort to avoid being voted off the case.”
Appleye hopes this technology will not only engage jurors, but also improve overall justice.
“Jurors are often the only party in a courtroom who aren’t allowed a voice in the process until the very end,” explains Appleye. “This program, coupled with the smartphone application facilitates greater juror participation in the process that in turn spurs their engagement, which will hopefully be reflected in the quality of the verdicts rendered in the county.”