Monday, July 11, 2005

Too informal?

I want your comments.

As you may know, I have been asked to revise parts of the Texas Pattern Jury Charges into plain English for a pilot program. I submitted a draft of the introductory instructions last week, and I was told they were "too informal."

Please read part of them, below, and tell me what you think. Remember, the judge will be reading these aloud to the potential jurors.

Instructions to the panel before jury selection

Ladies and Gentlemen: We're about to begin selecting a jury. Right now, you are members of what we call a panel. After the lawyers ask you some questions, 12 of you will be chosen for the jury. But before we start asking questions and choosing jurors, I'll give you some information and then go over the rules.

First of all, we thank you for being here. Even if you are not chosen for the jury, you are performing a valuable service that is your right and duty as a citizen of a free country.

Now I'll give you some background about the jury process. This is a civil trial. A civil trial is a lawsuit that is not a criminal case. This means no one has been accused of a crime and no one will be going to jail.

The name of this case is _____, plaintiff versus _____, defendant. The plaintiff and the defendant are called the parties.

If you're chosen for the jury, you will listen to the evidence and decide the facts of the case. I, as the judge, will make sure that the law is applied correctly and that the everyone follows the rules. I assure you we will handle this case as fast as we can, but we can't rush things. We have to do it fairly and we have to follow the rules.

Everyone must obey the rules: the judge, the lawyers, the witnesses, the jurors, and the parties.

If you break any of the rules, I will have to investigate it, and I may have to put you on the stand and require you to tell me about it. If you break these rules, I may also have to order a new trial. That means we would have to do this over again and waste everyone's time. Of course, that costs a lot of money, too. So please listen carefully to these rules and follow them.

These are the rules for the panel:
  1. Don't lie or withhold any information when the lawyers ask you questions. They are not meddling in your affairs; they are just being thorough. Give complete answers to their questions. Sometimes a lawyer will ask a question of the whole panel instead of just one person. If the question applies to you, raise your hand.
  2. Don't mingle or talk with the lawyers, the witnesses, the parties, or anyone involved in the case. Of course, you can exchange casual greetings like "hello" and "good morning." Other than that, don't chat with them. They have to follow these rules too, so they won't be offended.
  3. Don't accept any favors from the lawyers, the witnesses, the parties, or anyone involved in the case, and don't do any favors for them. This includes favors such as giving rides, food, and refreshments.
  4. Don't discuss this case with anyone, even your spouse, partner, or friend. And don't allow anyone to discuss the case with you or in front of you. If anyone tries to discuss the case with you, tell me.
Do you understand these rules? If you don't, please tell me now.

The lawyers will now begin asking questions.

Before I defend my revision, please tell me what you think.

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