Juror Interview in Vanderbilt Rape Trial Offers Good Practice Reminders

The Tennessean has a fascinating video interview of Todd Easter, one of the jurors in the Corey Batey and Brandon Vandenburg rape trial.    Juror feedback in any case gives trial lawyers helpful information about how to present information to a jury.  Mr. Easter’s interview yielded the following reminders:  

1.     Under Promise and Over Deliver —  In the Vanderbilt rape trial, one of the areas in which the lawyers over promised was the expected length of the trial.  The initial projection by the lawyers was 9 days.  Instead, the trial took 3 weeks.   Mr. Easter mentions this twice in his interview.  Since it sounds like both sides underestimated the time needed, the jurors were probably not mad at either side. But, if one side unilaterally makes a commitment on time (or evidence) and does not deliver, it could get ugly.  So,  Mr. Easter’s interview reminds us to be respectful of jurors time and under promise and over deliver.

2.     Digital Evidence is Hard to Overcome – If you are unfamiliar with the Vanderbilt rape case, the rape of the unconscious woman was videotaped and then shared with friends.  In addition, cameras in the dorms captured the defendants carrying the unconscious victim into the dorm and then later depositing her naked in the hallway.   Not surprisingly, the jurors found this evidence to be compelling and “impossible to refute”, which takes us to the next point.

3.     Develop Your Strategy Early and Be Consistent – At trial, the defendants claimed they were too drunk to know what they were doing.  According to Mr. Easter, the intoxication defense was introduced late into the trial.  And as such, most jurors found it especially hard to credit it.

4.     Your Client’s Presence Matters – In a criminal trial, the technical client of the prosecution is the State.  But, in reality, the client is often seen as the victim of the alleged crime.  In the Vanderbilt rape case, Mr. Easter noted the importance of the victim being at trial from “start to finish”.  And while she did not have to testify, the jurors were all struck by her bravery and her commitment to justice because she did. This same message carries over to a civil trial.  Jurors tend to believe and want to help people they like and who are committed to their case.   Help your client put their best foot forward by explaining the process, the issues, proper courtroom decorum, etc.

5.     Trying to Guess the Verdict Based on the Length of Deliberations Is Like Trying To Catch Smoke – If you have tried enough cases, you know this to be true.  We have all had cases where we thought deliberations would be short because we had killed the fly with a sledgehammer only to have the jurors take seemingly forever with their deliberations because of some technical point, etc.  In the Vanderbilt rape case, many expressed surprise over how quickly the jurors reached a verdict.   Mr. Easter explained the jurors had been hearing evidence for three weeks and that both sides had done a thorough job.  So by the time the jurors were released to deliberate, most of them were already pretty sure how they intended to vote.

Juror feedback can help a trial attorney better hone their skills.  Unfortunately, there are judges who prohibit contact with jurors, and those rules must be respected.  But, if you have try a case, and the judge allows you to contact jurors, I encourage you or someone on your behalf to do a short interview so that you can understand what you can do better, what you want to keep doing, and what you need to avoid in the future.