Blagojevich Jurors, the “Fist to Five” Vote and Three Other Important Deliberation Notes

Rod Blagojevich was found guilty. Bo-ring! My question, of course, is what did the jury think?

The Chicago Tribune has that covered. The neat thing to come out of the article was how the jurors took preliminary votes. Rather than using a straight up “guilty/not guilty” vote, they used the “fist to five” method, which I had never heard of before.

As the Tribune puts it:

Instead of private ballot, they did a “fist to five” vote, a consensus-building technique Karin Wilson suggested. If a juror raised a hand with all five fingers, that meant they were leaning strongly toward guilty. A fist was innocent. If the juror was somewhere in between, the number of fingers held up gave an indication of which way she or he was leaning.

Brilliant!

After doing a little research, this is apparently a common decisionmaking tool in corporate meeting settings, or at least in those corporate “six-sigma”-type retreats where people discuss management, leadership skills, how to run a business, etc.

Frankly, it sounds like one of the neat ideas you get after a seminar but never really put into play. I’m glad to see it worked!

Another thing that stuck out was that the jury considered the impact that the verdict would have on Blagojevich’s family. As the Tribune reported:

The panel discussed how the verdict would impact the lives of his two children, daughters Amy, 14, and Annie, 8. Ultimately, they said, they pushed those feelings aside and concentrated on the evidence.

“Everyone brought up that he had a family and young daughters,” the forewoman said. “This is a real human being, and it makes you kind of nervous. But we knew we had a job to do and stuck to the evidence.”

Sometimes we like to pretend that the jury won’t think of these things. Of course they will. We’re all human. A good lawyer will consider this and maybe even address it a little bit if the judge allows.

The third thing I noticed will give strength to the “reptile” attorneys reading this – the jurors hoped their verdict would “send a message” to other politicians. That’s really how all attorneys hope a jury will think. Examples would be hoping a medical malpractice verdict would send a message to other doctors/hospitals/nursing homes that sloppy practice won’t be tolerated, or that a car accident verdict would send a message that safe roads are important, or even that a defense verdict would send a message that bad lawsuits would not be rewarded. Of course, it is reversible error to directly tell a jury to “send a message”.

Finally, the article linked above mentions several times how well the jury got along. This contrasts with the last Blago jury, where the deliberations were far more tense and the jurors really didn’t get along well. I think the trial tip from that is to try to pick jurors who will work well with others. Stay away from jerks.

Hopefully we all learned something from this. Illinois – we have more imprisoned former governors than you do!

(Howard Zimmerle is a trial lawyer in Rock Island Illinois, practicing in much of Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com)

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4 Comments

Filed under Juries, Legal News, Trial Practice

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