Thursday, May 31, 2012

Awaiting the Verdict

As the trial of John Edwards drags into its ninth day of jury deliberations, you might wonder what is taking so long. The former U.S. Senator and 2004 vice-presidential candidate was indicted in 2011 for violating federal campaign finance laws in order to conceal his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during his 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Yesterday, the News & Observer reported that the members of the jury "have been behind closed doors for twice as long as it took the defense to present its side of the case." A note from one juror prompted several closed-door sessions between U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles and the attorneys on each side of the case. In addition, the four alternate jurors (who have not participated in the deliberations thus far) were allowed to return to their daily lives rather than spend more time waiting at the courthouse, although they remain “on call” if any of the twelve regular jurors are dismissed, and are still expected to refrain from consulting any outside media reports about the case.

While jury consultants speculate about the reasons for the continued delay, you can test your evidence-evaluating prowess at the U.S. Court for the Middle District of North Carolina’s website, which has maintained a free repository of trial exhibits and related documentation, including exhaustive transcripts of trial exhibits from both the prosecution and the defense. (Our favorite? The placeholder Verdict PDF, whose red lettering reads as increasingly irritated with each passing day.)

This repository is welcome news for legal researchers, who often must obtain federal trial-level filings for a fee, either from PACER or the court clerk’s office. If you’re researching a case where the court wasn’t kind enough to provide the exhibits online for free, our research guide to Court Records & Briefs contains tips for tracking down the same kinds of materials. For assistance with court filing research, be sure to Ask a Librarian.