Accepted Paper:

The jury is out: What evidentiary practices reveal about Norwegian lawyers' attitudes toward lay decision-makers   

Author:

Anna Offit (Princeton University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines Norwegian prosecutors’ and judges evidentiary practices during jury trials as a means of exploring their ideas about lay participation in the justice system.

Paper long abstract:

Norway is preparing to eliminate its jury system at a time when countries around the world are adopting juries. The research from which this paper stems poses two central questions. First, what accounts for Norway's exception to the global trend? And second, do Norwegian lawyers' attitudes about juries relate to culturally specific norms and intuitions about justice? To answer these questions, ethnographic attention to evidentiary practices during Norwegian trials is essential. Drawing on twelve months of fieldwork in Oslo and an illustrative jury trial this past January, my paper examines the relationship between the creation, commentary on, and presentation of evidence and legal actors' attitudes toward lay decision-makers. First, I argue that attention to jurors' questions about evidence during trial, prosecutors' strategic decisions related to the evidence they present, and judges' commentaries on evidence in the form of "jury instructions" reveal ambivalence about the jury's ability to make sense of evidence and reach truthful and legitimate verdicts. Second, drawing on semi-structured and unstructured interviews with prosecutors and judges in Oslo, Bergen, Hamar, and Tromsø, I examine how skepticism about jurors finds expression in lawyers' characterizations of evidence during trial. This includes lawyers' approaches to drafting and revising closing statements, and the absence of case-specific discussion during jury selection. Finally, this paper shows how lawyers' approaches to presenting evidence to jurors (as opposed to mixed courts) reveal culturally specific understandings of the relationship between truth and justice in legal proceedings as well as other domains of Norwegian society.

Panel P063
Evidence in question: anthropological authority and legal judgment [Anthropology of Law and Rights]