• Judge Michael Donio

Ask the Judge: Is there such a thing as Trial Science?



I watch “Bull.” Is there such a thing as Trial Science? Is it all TV hoopla?


I am glad that you like “Bull.” It is a show that I record every week. While things do not happen the way Dr. Bull has them happen in a real case, there are what we call jury trial consultants who are hired in very specific usually big cases where there is a potential for big verdicts. I myself used jury consultants in one case that resulted in a large jury verdict. However, you don’t have the sophistication of Dr. Bull in doing it. A jury consultant will normally get the jurors background information before trial from the jury questionnaire and then based on the case that you have; they will rate those jurors from one to five. You only have a couple of days to do this, at most a week. You then would have many consultations with the jury consultants as to the type of juror they think would be best for your type of case. After ranking those jurors and the jurors start coming into the jury box you will then have your sheet next to you where the jurors are ranked one to five. Of course, the human element or the eyeball method is always in play, but a good jury consultant can help immensely based on occupation, background and things of that nature to aid a lawyer in picking a jury in many complex cases. So, while it is not exactly as you see on TV with Dr. Bull, the science is out there and is very helpful and appropriate for cases.

If someone commits a serious crime in 2020, how long before it will go to Trial with this Pandemic? What if witnesses die? Or victims?


That is a very good question. However, it is an issue that is confronted in almost every criminal case whether a pandemic or not. That is except for the amount of time for the case will get a trial date. Cases that were pending when this pandemic started, and the court shut down in March of 2020 will have to be tried in the order they were in when the court stopped. Therefore, it would appear as of now that the courts will be close to one year behind. When the courts start up again, all the new cases from 2020 will go the back of the line. However, just as in cases before that, witnesses disappear, witnesses move away, witnesses die.

Victims the same thing. So, the bottom line is that the state in prosecuting a case has to take all that into consideration in determining what kind of plea bargain if any, they offer a criminal defendant. I had to accept many guilty pleas to lesser offenses with much less jail time if any, not because a person had a chance of being found innocent but because the victim was no longer available or died or remained witness to the case had disappear. It is something in the criminal law that comes with the territory and you have to make changes on the fly and be ready to adapt.


Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to askthejudge@hammontongazette.com.