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Opinion and Evidence

If you're a football fan, you probably have now seen the repercussion heard around the world, as a result of the decision of a Coach from New England. Bill Belichick, unaffectionately known by those not NE Patriot fans, as "Coach Cheat" or "Bill Billicheat", for his infamous videos and improper taping of opposing team signals a few years back, that was deemed to be breaking NFL rules. Anyway, he made a controversial decision, in the Patriots/Colts game, last night. Since I am a Colts fan, I can't get enough of it.

It was the Coach's decision to go for it on 4th down and 2 yards for a first, instead of punting away. His decision was to try to end the game with a first down instead of giving the ball back to Peyton Manning and the Colts, somewhere about 70 yards down the field. If you're not a football fan, give me a chance to tie this to the law. I promise, it's coming in a couple of paragraphs!  

The Patriots didn't get the first down. The Colts got the ball back and marched 28 yards for a game winning 35-34 touchdown. As a result, every sportswriter with any pen or keypad access, immediately expressed an opinion.(Here are just a few). All these were opinions. The evidence was a loss for the Patriots.

Wikipedia tells us that an opinion is a belief that cannot be proved with evidence. That's all relevant to  with what happens in a jury trial. Many times, I will tell the jury that, in considering the evidence, they don't have to leave their common sense at the front door. However, I also remind them of the "Lady Justice" figurine that hangs or sits in many courtrooms. In front of her is the scales of justice and she holds those, while wearing a blindfold. It's a reminder that justice is blind.

Last night's football game was lost on an opinion. Prior evidence of probability and outcome were thrown out the window. Because it still involved a game of football, it wasn't quite as serious as the Courtroom, where jurors are asked to take an oath to listen to the evidence and to apply the law. Bias and prejudice are to have no place in the evidence. Instead, each juror is to be like "Lady Justice" in weighing the evidence.

In these difficult times, it would be understandable for a juror to say that they can't consider the pain of a person in a car crash. Perhaps, as a juror, they have sat all day in a hard chair and, in fact, they have also had prior back issues. In some instances, some jurors have suffered more than those bringing the claims. Many times, the case is before the jury because someone has not accepted responsibility, or more practically, an insurance company has offered little money for the resolution of the claim.

In the state of Virginia, a civil jury is 7 people. In South Carolina, a civil jury is 12. In our hormone therapy trials in Pennsylvania, the jury is usually 12, as well. In Virginia and South Carolina, the verdict must be unanimous. In Pennsylvania, only 10 out of 12 have to agree.

The end to this blog is that opinion has no place, really, in deciding a case. That's not to say that someone can't apply their opinion to the credibility of the evidence. However, a juror takes an oath to put that opinion aside and look at the evidence through the looking glass of the law. One jury instruction specifically spells out that sympathy has no place in a verdict. The comfort in the application of the law is that my client can simply ask for accountability and what the law requires to be paid. 

I sure enjoyed that Colts' win last night. Of course, I have no sympathy for Coach Belichick's choice to go for it. Now, his team is held accountable with a loss and those are the rules. I also ask the jury to hold the defendant accountable according to the rules. Good jurors are able to put their opinions aside, even when they may disagree with the law of that case, and apply the law, according to their oath as a juror.  

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