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Lessons Learned from Jurors: Sex and Drug Cases Tried in Pittsburgh Criminal Court

Our recent blog post talks about how closely jurors watch how everyone behaves in the courtroom, and this reminded me of two interesting examples I thought I’d share with you today.

I had a case involving a schoolteacher, who was accused of sexual assault on seven of his thirteen-year-old female students. While ultimately, he was acquitted, the first time around the jury convicted him.

The jury included six men and six women, and the client did not testify. Even though I believed he wasn’t guilty, I did not think he would be a good witness.

The jury convicted him on half of the charges and acquitted him on half.

I had occasion to speak with the jurors afterward. And what was interesting was, the jurors said they knew he was guilty of the charges they’d convicted him on because, as each of these young girls testified about the alleged sexual assault, he refused to look at them and instead looked down at the table.

It was from that, the jurors felt the defendant was embarrassed, ashamed and guilty.

That was an incredibly important lesson for me, not only in terms of the re-trial of this case but for all other cases since. Not evidence, but appearance, body language and the erroneous impressions jurors draw from them can make or break a case.

Another important thing I learned from years of being in front of a jury is that jurors watch how you treat your client.

Early in my career, I represented a young man who was charged with the distribution of drugs.

We had no defense to the charges, but couldn’t get a deal that made sense. So we picked a jury and went to trial.

And while I don’t recall my argument to the jury– lo and behold, the defendant was acquitted, leading me to believe I must really be a terrific lawyer.

Fortunately, about a week later I ran into one of the jurors walking down the street. He stopped me, we talked about the case, and I asked him what the basis for the acquittal was.

And he looked me in the eye and said, “Stan, we knew your client was innocent.”

I said, “Of course he was. But how did you know that?”

He said, “Well, the way you treated him. You were so nice to him and you put your arm around him. We knew that you wouldn’t have acted that way if he was a guilty person.”

Again, a fascinating lesson about human nature.

—Stanton D. Levenson

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