The trial judge thought it was merely glossophobia.
Eric Turkewitz passed on this story from Thomas Swartz's New York Legal Update, on a February 21 New York appellate opinion, People v. Figueroa. The trial itself in Figueroa's robbery case apparently went smoothly -- but after the jury sent word that it had reached a verdict, something unusual happened. "The foreperson sent a personal note to the [trial] court indicating that he did not feel 'comfortable' about reading the verdict," the appellate court explained.
Please don't make me read aloud
What does a trial judge do with a note like that? Talk to the juror. This trial judge did that, and concluded the problem was simple stage fright:
The court inquired of the foreperson about the meaning of the note, outside the presence of defendant, his codefendant or any of the attorneys. Subsequently, the court informed counsel of the note, and related that during the inquiry, no mention of the verdict itself was made; instead, the foreperson stated that he was uneasy about having to read the verdict out loud in some sort of narrative form. The court related to counsel that when it assured the foreperson he would only have to answer the clerk's questions, the foreperson, who had not served on a jury before, was "relieved" and satisfied. In response to the prosecutor's question, the court stated that the foreperson never indicated any discomfort with the verdict itself, which was simply not discussed.
That put things back on track, or seemed to: "Neither defendant objected to this procedure or sought a further inquiry of the foreperson. The jury then rendered its verdict, and, when individually polled, each juror including the foreperson agreed with it."
So the trial judge was probably surprised when, in postverdict motions, Figueroa claimed juror coercion. He filed the foreman's "affidavit, which was obviously drafted by an attorney, in which he claimed that other jurors had coerced his verdict, and that he had communicated to the court that this was why he was uncomfortable announcing the verdict." But the juror in turn recanted that testimony in a postverdict hearing and went back to the stage-fright version, so the conviction was upheld.
Of course there's a Glossophobia.com
Can stage fright really make a juror afraid to read a verdict out loud? To find the answer, you'd of course start at Glossophobia.com, and find that even those smooth-talking airplane pilots get stage fright:
Glossophobia can exhibit itself in many ways, including:
- Actors, actresses and musicians finding shows and concerts extremely difficult
- Businesspeople having a fear of making presentations
- The fear of making speeches at weddings
- The fear in anticipation of a public speaking event
- The avoidance of situations that might include public speaking
- Pilots and cabin crew feeling intensely uncomfortable having to make announcements to passengers during a flight
- Stuttering or stammering in public speaking situations
The prevalence and power of this fear are worth remembering in voir dire, especially attorney-conducted voir dire when you're the one making someone speak in front of a group. There's a chance your simplest question is making someone queasy. That's not the first impression you want to make. Watch for glossophobia, and find ways to show compassion.
(Image from www.moviewallpapers.net posted by Mickey Glitter at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickey_glitter/2081677243/; license details at both sites.)