Trial By Jury
“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet devised by man, by which government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” – Thomas Jefferson
If the opportunity exists, trial by jury is nearly always the preferred choice in civil cases, including elder abuse.
However, the victim doesn’t always have a choice. In California, the remedy in some cases is called “equitable”. By law, the parties to equitable claims don’t have the right to a jury trial.
Examples of equitable claims would include a “quiet title” action, where the parties are in dispute over who is the true legal owner of a parcel of real property. Trust litigation claims – such as whether a trustee breached a duty of care that harmed beneficiaries – are also “equitable” in nature and do not allow a trial by jury.
Sometimes, a jury trial is allowed, but only in part. In a conservatorship case, for example, a conservatee (the alleged incompetent adult) can have a jury trial, but only to decide whether or not a conservatorship should be established. Once that issue is answered, the jury is dismissed and the judge then makes all other rulings.
But when the opportunity exists, 12 decent citizens are quite capable of sorting out truth from fiction and rendering a just verdict. The jury hasn’t been hardened by having heard perhaps hundreds of cases (in contrast to a judge), and isn’t unsympathetic to the victim’s plight. The jury panel is usually fresh, curious and enthusiastic, and takes its collective responsibility seriously.
By contrast, placing the weighing of facts and the verdict in the hands of one person (the judge) can be a dangerous proposition. That judge may be harboring a host of personal issues, ugly life-experiences, or just plain doesn’t have any particular concern for the elderly who the California legislature has recognized as a disadvantaged class of citizens.
Side note: With a jury of 12 members, at least nine must agree as to whether the defendant is liable or not. A “hung jury” means that less than nine jurors can agree, and a “mistrial” will result. be found. If the elder-plaintiff desires to continue with his or her case, then a new trial will be required.
The decent folk who are selected as jurors most often find their jury duty experience to have been challenging, and an educational enlightenment at having personally experienced the inner -workings of the courtroom.
Understandably, they may initially moan at the prospect of having to serve on jury duty, but the majority find their involvement a positive one.
Again contrast this with a judge who has been there and done that for who knows how many years, and no longer sees the trial as a fresh experience and learning process. That type of judge usually has one goal: to get the matter off his/her bench and reduce the caseload.
When available, let the jury hear the case and determine the outcome. Almost always, at least nine out of twelve will get it right.
If you or a loved one has a problem concerning an elder or senior law issue, then pick up the phone and give us a call. We’re here to help. The initial telephone consultation is always free.
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