“Jury will disregard”

I hear that term a lot in the Law & Order series.

Assuming the show is based enough in reality that that phrase actually does happen in court. It seems really strange to me, the court can’t force the jury to forgot anything. If what is to be disregarded is a damning piece of evidence, couldn’t that phrase alone be grounds for a mistrial?

No. While certainly it’s going to have some influence, jurors will try not to let it be the determining factor.

My experience of jury duty is that jurors take their role very seriously. If anyone brought that up in deliberation, someone else would say that they’re not supposed to consider it. Also, you’re examining so much evidence that the thing you disregard is just going to be one out of many details of the case and not likely to be the deciding one.

In real trials, the lawyers take all sorts of steps to avoid this. When we were handed transcripts of a phone conversation, we were warned that we were only to use it to follow the actual conversation and not to substitute for it. Thus, if we heard an ambiguous word in the conversation, we had to make our decision on what we heard, not what we read.

Another time, the DA did not show a video to the jury after a witness indicated he was in it because the video hadn’t been correctly introduced yet. The witness pointed he was in the video, but we never saw at what point (which actually led to one of the defendants being trapped, just like they are on TV).

Sometimes the Judge thinks an instruction to disregard will be sufficient. Sometimes a mistrial is warranted.

It does indeed happen in court all the time.


**Q: What did you do next

A: Well, the officer told me to move, so I got back in my car and started the engine.

OBJECTION, hearsay

Court: The jury will disregard what the witness said about the Officer’s statement.**

Obviously not a big issue, and no mistrial necessary.

[note, there could be arguments that this isn’t hearsay at all, due to the fact it wasn’t offered for the truth of the matter asserted, but to explain the witnesses conduct. I just don’t have another simple example at my fingertips right now and this will illustrate the point I’m trying to make]

OTOH, if the prosecution brings up something that would prejudice the jury, that the defendant was a convicted pedophile, for instance, even though that has no bearing on the current matter at hand, it may be difficult for the jury to disregard that information, and hold it as a prejudice against the defendant.

I would assume a mistrial would be more likely in that scenario.


In the trials I’ve been a Jury member on, it didn’t take long for the judge to see what direction thing were going. The judge would shut down things pretty quickly so you weren’t really disregarding much. Then everybody would approach the bench or go back to chambers to, I assume, explain their reasons, come to some agreements, and get a ruling on the scope of the questions.

But if the witness had said “Well, I obeyed the officer who had taken control of the scene, and got back in my car and started the engine.” Would that essentially have been giving exactly the same statement, with exactly the same connotations, but couching it in a different phrase?

Wait, how could “the officer told me to move” be hearsay at all? There’s no out of court statement about a fact.

Ok, as I said, maybe a bad example.

How about “the officer said the suspect was hiding in the bushes and asked me to move my car.”

Judge: Members of the jury, you are instructed to disregard the alleged statement by the officer.

Depending on the case, that may or may not be unfairly prejudicial, but it is hearsay.

Just out of curiosity regarding hearsay, would it have made a difference if the witness phrased the answer as “I heard the officer say…” rather than the declarative “The officer said…”? The first one indicates the self?

No, hearsay either way. It doesn’t turn on how you phrase it. If the witness is relating an out of court statement (for the truth of the matter asserted) it’s hearsay (with exceptions, of course)

In general lawyers don’t try to get the judge pissed off at them. It’s very dramatic for a lawyer to do something sneaky to get the jury to hear something that will be disregarded but real life isn’t tv. Often what can and can’t be brought up has been decided long before a jury hears a word of testimony. If something changes during the trial the then those issues are hashed out without the jury being present. Since witnesses are mostly not aware of the finer points of law they will sometimes say things that are not allowed. Those things are mostly not important enough to cause a mistrial. Blurting out something about a confession that was thrown out for instance could cause a mistrial.

Sounds like “jury will disregard” is a surefire Streisand-Effect way of getting the jury to remember and take into account what they were not supposed to hear.

In the “Well, the police officer said the suspect was hiding in the bushes…” example, I think a “The jury will disregard that” would work. But in an example where someone says “Everyone at the local pub knows Fred has a big collection of fuck-off stabby knives”, then the judge saying “Pretend you didn’t hear that!” is definitely going to make people think “Hmmmmm. Fuck-off stabby knives, you say?”

In that Rock starring “Walking Tall” remake there’s a scene where after the Rock is being sued by a casino for damages and assaults that he did in revenge after he was accused of cheating and got beaten up by the casinos bouncers, and during the trial the Rock takes off his shirt in front of the jury to show the bruises and cuts he had been given by the bouncers as justification for his revenge crimes. The judge tells the jury to disregard the incident as it had nothing to do with the fact he destroyed half the casino but the jury are visibly affected and find him not guilty of all charges.

A more competent judge would surely have immediately called a mistrial for the unplanned shirt removal.

the reason for the hearsay rule is that you have to bring the person in to court to confirm he did say that? In the example above they need to bring in the officer and ask him what he said?

Don’t you hate it when you’re just using a random example to get your point across and people pick it apart almost like they’re attempting to show that your actual point is incorrect.

I had a friend that would do this. For example, he’d be having a problem with his car starter, I’d make a suggestion about some things I’d tried on my car to rule out this or that when I had a similar problem and he’d always come back with ‘well you have a Honda and I have a Toyota’ or ‘yours is a 2005 and mine is a 1998’ and I couldn’t get it through is head that swapping the relays is still a perfectly valid test.

Not in this case, but in other, more controversial threads it’s the reason I’ve declined to offer up examples, just to have them picked apart for silly reasons by people that weren’t there.

@Procrustus, I think most of us understood what you meant.

That’s the whole point. A judge isn’t under the assumption that he can wipe the memory of the jury. The judge has to determine if the point of the testimony is minor enough to not prejudice the jury if he just tells them to disregard or if it is something that will prejudice them to the point that a mistrial has to be called. Unlike tv most of the testimony that is objected to is of little consequence. The big issues are resolved before the jury hears a word and lawyer stunts are either prohibited or frowned upon. Real trials are pretty boring for the most part.

It’s an attempt to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted and just about as effective. “When you retire to consider your verdict you will not think of an elephant.”

No it really isn’t.