Source of article DOAR Litigation Consulting.
In this Law360 article, DOAR’s Jury Consultant and Psychologist reviews the new Fox show “You, The Jury”.
When a television show like “You, The Jury” appears, in which millions of home viewers vote on the verdict in a murder trial, a few questions might come to mind. “Have we reached the last days of the Roman Empire?” perhaps, or the more modern “How close are we to the Purge?” As a jury consultant, I am going to focus on a narrower but important question: How might this wacky show affect actual jurors?
The Mega-Mock Trial
The premise of the show appears to be the result of someone pitching to Fox executives the legal question, “What if Judge Judy cases were not bench trials?”
ln this show, the home viewers see a brief mock trial about a real case and then vote on the verdict live. The first episode is a civil case related to a real murder case in which a man is accused of killing his girlfriend while on vacation for the travel insurance death payout.
The attorneys present their cases using video segments and short snippets of testimony, often from their witnesses who sit together in their side’s sections of the bleachers behind their side’s table. This is somewhat like the Australian court procedure of “hot-tubbing” witnesses, in which experts have more of an open discussion all at once as if they are in a hot-tub together. (Note to producers: I get a producer’s credit when you use a hot-tub in future episodes.)
The case presentation moves briskly with an attorney asking a witness to stand and give one sentence answers to a couple of questions on direct, often accompanied by a video segment in which the attorney says, “So here you are on the beach at the scene of the crime, correct?” Hilariously or appallingly (depending on where you stand on the Roman Empire/Purge Continuum), the live audience applauds after each witness.
Throughout, the judge handles objections, funnily enough focusing a lot on the fact that the attorney may not have lain a foundation, as if any viewer knows what that means or cares in the slightest. She and the host, a highly concerned Jeanine Pirro, also spend a lot of time explaining that this is not actually a murder trial, but a civil trial, stating that no one will go to jail based on your voting on the Fox app. Nonetheless, an appeal is made to the home viewer to give a verdict vote to allocate justice and resolve the case.
The Verdict Vote
Sadly, this is where the show becomes less compelling. You may wonder why the accused guy, who we have previously never heard of, would want to go on television and publicize that he may be a murderer supposedly to clear his name. The answer is that both parties are paid appearance fees, and the verdict that the viewers give just means that some additional amount of money goes to one side or the other.
But don’t spend the money too fast, murderer. The live voting is only for the viewers in the Eastern and Central Time Zones, and the verdict is announced live for that audience. When the show is later shown to the entire other half of the United States, the verdict may be quietly reversed.
Ultimately, it is far less compelling than an “American Idol” type of vote. No one goes on to another level of competition (You, the Appellate Court), and no one really wins or loses much. In this episode, after all of the buildup about the home viewer enforcing justice upon the parties, you can actually see the muted reaction of the parties who do not seem to care much about the result of the verdict. Murder, schmurder, it’s time for a group hug.
The Effect on Actual Juries
We may have mixed views of “You, The Jury” being on the air depending on how we feel about the coming Rapture, but this nutty show may have a positive effect on civil society. In a time in which our fundamental institutions and citizenship are losing consumer confidence, never has jury duty looked so enthralling.
This mock trial, unlike real court, moves swiftly with frequent applause breaks. The verdict voting comes quickly and gives the appearance of import. You can sit on your couch, voting in your underwear (but enough about me), and feel like you are doing something to make the world more just.
If the overall effect is that people will understand that jury duty is important and exciting, this hokey television show may be for the best. For my money, though, I would instead choose “The High Court,” a show in which the comedian Doug Benson hears “Judge Judy” style cases, and then goes into his chambers to smoke marijuana with his bailiff in order to help him make his judicial opinion. Who knew that, in the end, our society teeters on which version of Judge Judy we agree upon?