Over the years I have had the honor of serving jury duty on a few criminal trials. In each trial, if I recall correctly, the judge instructs the jury to only consider the evidence (testimony by witnesses and documentary evidence) and to specifically ignore any statements made by the attorneys as evidence. OK, I can do that.
Then we are treated to opening statements by counsel on each side. At the end of all testimony we are treated to closing statements by counsel on each side.
Since I have been instructed as a juror to only consider the evidence, and further instructed that statements made by the attorneys are not evidence, can I just pop in the the earbuds and crank up the iPod when the opening/closing performances are taking place? I have a strong suspicion that the answer is no.
Could someone please explain to me this cognitive conceit (as I see it) that is enshrined in our courtroom proceedings? What gives?
It seems to me to be just the normal routine for a presentation. Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em (opening statement). Tell 'em (the trial). Tell 'em what you told 'em (closing argument, or summation).
Yes, of course, I understand the Communications 101 structure of the presentation. That is not what I am curious about.
If I am to follow the instructions of the judge to the logical end, then I would make every attempt to block out the statements that are not evidence (the attorneys statements). So, therefore, why am I forced to sit through something I was specifically instructed to ignore?
The judge’s instructions are not to take what the attorney’s say as “evidence”. However, what the attorney’s are attempting to do during the trial is indicate how the evidence leads to a given “conclusion”. So what the attorney’s are saying is their opinion/stance on what the evidence shows.
The opening and closing statements, then are pretty much statements of the “conclusions” they believe the actual evidence will prove. It is not to be taken as “evidence” per se, but rather the view that you (the juror) are to decide which indicates the outcome of the case.
I think you would find yourself in deep doo doo with the judge if you were to flagrantly ignore opening statement and closing argument.
The jury has to determine what the facts are based on the evidence. The cognitive conceit, as you put it, is that the evidence is what you can “rely on” to reach your verdict. You can consider counsels’ arguments about the evidence – what it means, how you should weigh it, etc. – but you must reach your conclusion independently. You cannot simply take what the lawyers say as gospel.
Essentially, the judge is telling you that you should let the evidence be your touchstone, but that each side has tried to provide guideposts for you to help you navigate the evidence. You cannot assume that the guideposts are accurate – you must think through everything yourself – but you can listen to what the lawyers have to say.
You’re right, though. It’s an interesting conundrum.