I’ve known some very nice people. I’ve also known some rather surly characters. Some of the nice ones were (and are) successful. Some not so successful. The same thing can be said about the surly types. Donald Trump seems really nice, and he’s also really rich. Steve Jobs, sadly, appears to have been pretty surly when he didn’t like someone’s ideas. He was also really rich. So, if wealth is what you want, you can get it being nice or surly.
But I’ve discovered something over my years as a prosecutor and defense attorney. Jurors don’t like surly. They adore nice.
This week I am in the midst of another jury-trial heavy phase of my law practice. I’ve had 10 jury trials in the last twelve months. That’s more than you’d imagine. Most lawyers are lucky (or cursed, depending on their attitudes…surly?) to be in jury trial once every three months, so this has been a remarkably litigious year for my clients and me. I had a trial two weeks ago…NOT GUILTY! And another this week…NOT GUILTY! (Both were DUI trials, by the way.) I have another coming up the middle of December (I’m prosecuting for a municipality then, so will be going for a guilty verdict!). These last two trials taught me something very valuable. As I said above, Jurors don’t like surly.
Here’s what happened. In the first trial the deputy was surly from the get go (the incident was recorded on video). I can’t share details due to attorney-client privilege, but let’s just say that nature called and the deputy put the call on hold, even though there were clear extenuating circumstances that should have compelled him to be nice and allow the defendant to avoid embarrassment. In fact, shoot forward two weeks, and that’s exactly what the nice deputy did for the other defendant. After that first trial’s NOT GUILTY verdict, the prosecutor and I talked to the jurors. They unanimously did not appreciate the attitude (meanness/surliness) of the deputy. Fortunately for the defendant, not only was he mean in the field, but he had a really cocky, know-it-all attitude on the witness stand. The defendant, on the other hand, took the stand and was very humble and nice, and talked and walked as well then as the night of his arrest. Still, it was clear that had the deputy been nicer the outcome might have been different.
I’m happy he was surly.
Now for this week’s trial. That deputy was courteous and nice to the defendant on the night of her arrest (it was recorded on video, too). There were other circumstances there that I believe compelled the jury to find her NOT GUILTY (e.g., the video showed ok though not perfect driving through a construction zone, and she wore 5-inch high heels and didn’t have coordination issues when not performing “unnatural human acts”), but the comments from the jurors were night and day compared to the previous trial. They had nothing negative to say about the latter deputy’s attitude. They did think that what he saw on the video was different than what they saw (credibility?), but didn’t focus on him being a jerk like the other trial.
They thought the first deputy was a jerk. The second was “just doing his job.”
As my grandmother put it, “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” So true. Officers who are courteous and polite with defendants and jurors tend to be more persuasive during jury deliberations even though they never enter the jury room.
By the way, I’ve adopted a combative attitude with witnesses in the past. This accomplishes two things. One, it puts the witness on the defense and he will likely weasel his way around the question. Two, it makes jurors hate me, which is not good for the client. Nice is a much better examination style. Nice attorneys get more helpful answers and endear themselves to juries (or at least don’t tick them off!). Hence, “what’s good for the goose (witness) is good for the gander (attorney).” If I’d been perceived as a jerk in these trials it would have likely cancelled out the officers’ surliness and the clients might have lost.
So there it is. Average, everyday people (including engineers, teachers, counselors, salesmen) prefer nice. If they prefer nice, so should we. So let’s be nice. It’s a really good time of year to adopt such an attitude.
If you find yourself in need of representation in a domestic, criminal, traffic, estate planning, or business matter, call me at 316-262-2331. Two NOT GUILTY verdicts in a row! I’m on a roll and would love to help you, too.
Copyright © 2012 Kevin Mark Smith