Judge P. Kevin Castel, who received the Edward Weinfeld award at a luncheon Tuesday celebrating New York City’s federal courts, called on his colleagues to give clearer instructions to juries.
In accepting the award from the New York County Lawyers Association, Castel noted that juries are bewildered by the simplest of terms. He cited the inability of the average person to understand the term preponderance of evidence, which he said an alarming number think means pondering the evidence.
At the event at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Castel said he’s proud to have served in the Southern District of New York with judges appointed by nine presidents going back to Lyndon Johnson. He called the court the “finest court in the nation bar none.”
Properly instructing juries is as important today as ever, he said, noting that jurors who can’t decide on something as simple as what pizza toppings to order somehow come together to agree on a verdict.
“Rumors of the demise of jury trials are greatly exaggerated,” he said. “No, we haven’t become the equivalent of the Maytag repairman.”
He said the cases before the courts are incredibly complex such as RICO cases with multiple predicate acts.
“We as judges tend to drone on delivering instructions that are legally complex … but ponderous,” he said. He said judges use “time-honored and statutory language” that isn’t very helpful to jurors.
Castel called on his legal colleagues to “begin anew the dialogue of improving jury comprehension.”
He said it’s time to use videos to educate jurors, noting that the average iPhone user unlocks his phone 80 times a day.
“Lady Justice may be blind but not our jurors,” he said.