Brigham Cluff talks about Trusting the Jury and The Wisdom of Crowds
Trusting the Jury can be hard to do in trials. With so much on the line how can these strangers be trusted? Brigham Cluff explains why he trusts Juries.
Start Transcription of Trusting the Jury
Hi. This is Brigham Cluff. This is my third video in my series All About Arizona Juries. This one is entitled Trusting the Jury.
In my previous video I discussed the problem of bias. One of the reasons why it’s sometimes hard to trust juries is because we all know that bias exists and we’re concerned that that may show itself in the verdict of a jury.
One of the reasons why I do trust in juries is that there’s a principle that exists that’s come to be known as the wisdom of crowds. Now the wisdom of crowds is really a fascinating topic. It’s been around for quite a while, but the premise of wisdom of crowds goes something like this.
All of us as a group is smarter than one of us. That applies whether the one of us is an expert or just a regular person or a fool. The wisdom of the crowd in some circumstances is better than the specialized knowledge of an expert. One of the early experiments where this was first seen was at some state fair and people were bringing their prized animals in to be judged, so one of the experiments that they ran at this fair was they had oxen that were on display.
People would bring in their prized oxen. They would be examined by whoever it is that examines oxen and they would ask the people, “What do you think that ox weighs?’ “Oh, I don’t know, 7,000 pounds.” “Okay, thank you.” Next person would come along. “What do you think that ox weighs?” “I’m going to go with 85 pounds.”
Ask the next person. “I’m going to go with 700 pounds.” Ask the next person, 400 pounds. Ask the next person, 10,000 pounds. You just get all of these responses all over the place. Then they would bring in the experts. The experts would say, “That’s pretty good sized ox there. I’m going to go with 2,800 pounds,” which is an intelligent guess because these experts know that at the upper range oxen weigh about 3,000 pounds.
They would bring in the experts to give their opinions and they were pretty close. Here’s the amazing thing, when you average together the guesses of the crowd, the people that guessed 85 pounds, the people that guessed 17,000 pounds, when you average together those guesses, they were closer than the experts.
Now, how does this apply to juries? When you send a case to trial, usually the issues are pretty complicated. You’re dealing with sometimes medical issues, sometimes you’re dealing with products liability where there’s some fairly significant engineering issues that need to be understood by the jury.
There’s all sorts of complexity that gets introduced to all kinds of different cases. There’s this concern that oh my goodness, is the jury going to understand what I’m trying to tell them because I’ve spent a couple of years trying to figure this out and I actually now do think I’ve got it pretty well dialed in, but man, I’ve been doing this for a long time now. It’s hard to understand. I hope they get it.
Here’s the good news. They will get it as it a group. You could have some individuals that don’t get it, but as a group, juries seem to be able to come together and understand what they need to understand in order to produce a just verdict in their cases. It’s a mind boggling thing for me to see how this happens in a group because you will have members of the group who don’t get it.
You’ll have members of the group who do get it and you’ll have members of the group … Actually sometimes it will seem like even the entire group is wrong on some really important point, yet they come back around and get to the right result. It’s fascinating. It really works. I’ve seen it play out enough times that I actually trust the juries. I trust them more than I trust myself because I bring bias into it.
I have a lot invested into a case by the time I get to trial. I have invested hundreds or thousands of hours into the case. I have invested sometimes a lot of money in terms of costs of depositions and paying expert witnesses. My expert witnesses and the other side’s expert witnesses, so by the time I’ve gotten to trial, man, I’ve got a lot on the line.
I have bias. A jury doesn’t have the bias that I’ve got. I trust them more than I trust myself. I have actually received verdicts from the jury before, some I’ve been real happy with and others I’ve looked at and thought boy, they should have given me more. Why didn’t they give me more? Can’t they see that this or that?
I’ll tell you that as time goes by, I come to look at even those occasions and see that, you know, the jury made the right decision here. As I’ve got a little more perspective on something, I realize that the juries make the right decisions.
Now, I hasten to add a very important caveat here. You have to get your case in front of the jury. There is a certain threshold that you have to meet before the jury is even going to be able to do its job. You’ve got a responsibility as the attorney to get that evidence in front of them and to get it in front of them in a way that makes sense.
Once you’ve done that the jury is going to make the right decision, but I don’t want to give the impression that you can just kind of show up and stumble through. Okay, did I mention this to you, jury? Oh, oh and also, if you don’t have a coherent case that you can give to the jury, the jury’s not going to rescue you. You have to give your case to the jury and then they will do their job.
Please watch all of my videos in my series All About Arizona Juries and I’d be happy to have feedback from you and I’ll reply to any comments that I receive.