Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflections on Jury Duty

A News Tribune columnist talks about being called for jury duty. Kathleen Merryman, Jury duty a burden to some, a thrill and an honor to others, News Tribune, Jan. 25, 2012.

I was thrilled at the chance to be part of one of the fairest judicial systems on the planet. It has its flaws, and some of them run deep. But it demands that the accused see the faces of the peers who will decide the verdict. It requires that those peers be accountable to each other, and to themselves. It’s a mental stretch for participants, and discussions that stretch us beyond preconceptions are good for the health of democracy. We get to experience all that, even if we don’t serve on a jury.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Voir Dire Tool: iPad App or Post-It Notes?

Law Technology News reviews iJury, another iPad app for managing voir dire (see earlier post). The review is fairly positive – but the author finds that the Post-It Notes on which a lawyer can scribble quick notes remain good competition. Ted Brooks, Will an iPad Replace Post-it for Voir Dire?, Law Technology News (, Jan. 19, 2012.

Frustrations in Family Court

This week's cover story in the Seattle Weekly is Ripped Apart: Divorced dads, domestic violence, and the systemic bias against men in King County family court (Jan. 18, 2012). Nina Shapiro reports on courts that are so busy that each side in a divorce often has just minutes to present evidence and arguments. (Very few cases go to trial, so the hearings before commissioners are critical.) She profiles three men whose divorces were complicated by allegations of domestic violence and painful custody disputes. Several attorneys quoted say that the system is biased against men. 

It would be interesting to hear more voices related to this story – divorced and divorcing women, more men than the three profiled, commissioners, judges. Would the conclusions be any different?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Updates to Pattern Instructions

Today the Washington Courts announced:

several criminal pattern jury instructions were recently updated. Changes have been made to WPIC 1.01, 4.61, and 4.69 in order to spell out in greater detail the prohibitions against jurors discussing the case with others, including with regard to their electronic communications. Changes also have been made to several concluding instructions, incorporating State v. Bashaw’s holding that unanimity is not required for jurors to answer “no” on a special verdict form; see WPIC 30.03, 50.60, 50.60.01, 160.00, and 300.51.  
These updates have been incorporated into all formats, including the printed pocket parts, Westlaw, and the free public website.
You can sign up for email alerts about court rule changes and pattern instruction changes here.

State v. Bashaw, cited in the announcement, is here: 169 Wash.2d 133, 234 P.3d 195, Google Scholar (2010)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hiding Tattoos?

In pretrial motions, lawyers argued over whether the jury should be allowed to see Michael Coombes's tattoos – one on his face with A-F (for Aryan Family) and one on his hip with a gun and a syringe; the gun was the same brand and caliber as the murder weapon. Murder suspect hopes makeup will hide criminal history from jury, KXLY (Spokane), Dec. 12, 2011.


One issue was whether revealing the tattoos would also reveal the fact that the defendant was serving time in prison for the murder when he got them. He was getting a new trial because he had successfully argued that his guilty plea should be invalidated because of a misunderstanding of how time off for good behavior would be calculated. In re Coombes, 159 Wash.App. 1044, 2011 WL 240687 (Wash.App. Div. 3 2011) (unreported). The jury did learn of the hip tattoo (but I'm not sure if they saw it). Closing arguments heard in Coombes murder trial, KLXY, Dec. 16, 2011.

Coombes was convicted and received a sentence about 7 years longer than the sentence under the plea he had withdrawn. Jury convicts man of 2007 slaying, Spokesman-Review (Spokane), Dec. 19, 2011. By the way, the Spokesman-Review blog, Sirens & Gavels, has a number of posts tagged "neck tattoos": Coombes is not the only defendant who risks the jury forming an opinion of him based on his body art.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Inside an Interrogation of a Scared Teen

After a trial court judge suppressed a teenager's confession in her trial for smothering her infant, David Boeri, a reporter for WBUR, a public radio station in Boston, petitioned to get the DVDs or the interrogation. It took several months, but the judge issued an order in September, and in December, WBUR aired a two-part report, "Anatomy of a Bad Confession." Today, NPR aired a lengthy story (though not as lengthy as what WBUR aired). Here are links:

Hearing (or viewing) the questioning is much more vivid the reading a discussion of a coercive interrogation in an appellate opinion. This is very valuable reporting.