I have been writing on this blog about how Dallas County juries have shifted over the years from pro-defense to pro-plaintiff, or at least to a point where most prospective jurors in Dallas County don’t necessarily consider lawsuits a bad thing. In the era of tort reform, this attitude among prospective jurors in Dallas County is very interesting. My previous posts are here, here, and here.
But why do we care about juries anyway? There are the constitutional reasons, and the traditions in our legal system that are tied inextricably to the jury trial process. There are the defenders of the jury trial as the last line of defense against oppression. And these are good reasons to care about the juries.
But my focus on why juries matter is more practical. In Texas, juries matter because once a jury renders a verdict it is extraordinarily rare for the jury’s verdict to be overturned. It happens, but not very often. This is because legal and factual sufficiency challenges to a jury verdict are judged against very high standards.
The Dallas Court of Appeals just released a decision in Adams v. Bellas affirming a jury verdict where the court went through the standards for legal and factual sufficiency challenges to a jury verdict.
To overturn a jury verdict on legal sufficiency grounds, the court must first credit any evidence favoring the jury verdict if reasonable jurors could disregard contrary evidence if reasonable jurors could not. If more than a scintilla of evidence supports the jury’s verdict, then the court has to uphold the verdict. There is no weighing of the evidence on one side or the other. The court simply looks at whether there is some evidence that would “enable reasonable and fair-minded people to reach the verdict under review.”
To overturn a jury verdict on factual sufficiency grounds, the jury’s verdict must be against the great weigh and preponderance of the evidence. This means that the jury verdict will be set aside “only if it is so contrary to the overwhelming weigh of the evidence as to be clearly wrong and manifestly unjust.”
Taken together, the high standards for legal and factual sufficiency protect the philosophical value that we place on the role of the jury in our legal system. We have assigned the jury the role of weighing the evidence and resolving any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence. We then shield the jury’s verdict from second-guessing by creating high standards for overturning the jury’s verdict.
So why do juries matter? Because under our system, once the jury delivers its verdict it is procedurally and practically very difficult to overturn the verdict. Oh, and also for all those constitutional reasons and tightly-held traditions long associated with our legal system.