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Jury Duty in Plain English

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The Los Angeles Times reports that jury instructions will soon become more “user-friendly” since “jurors' educations and language skills vary.” According to Carol A. Corrigan, a state appellate justice in charge of the jury instruction task force, “If we can't get it onto a bumper sticker or in a 10-second spot, no one is going to listen.”LAist was assigned to jury duty a few weeks ago and can affirm that there are a few, um, not-so-bright potential jurors. From the guy who shouted and laughed at the vending machine to the woman who repeatedly answered the judge’s questions with rambling stories about her family, it seemed everyone was doing their damnedest to be removed from the jury pool for reasons of mental incompetence. A jury of your peers has been reduced to a jury of people who learned everything they know about the law from "Judge Judy."

We support simplifying the language used in the courtroom. Loyola Law School professor Peter Tiersma points out that jury instructions use language that dates back to the 1800s. Double-negatives are common and confusing. But it can’t take too long to clean up and clarify instructions. Change “misrecollection” to “forget”, switch out “willfully false” and swap in “deliberately lied.” Done!

Once this is completed, how about spending a little more time and effort improving on the things that matter to the jurors who actually understand all those multi-syllabic words? Free Wi-Fi and Starbucks would probably go further than some minor linguistic tweaks in getting professionals to serve more willingly and listen more carefully.