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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Thursday, August 4, 2005

What does "preponderance" mean?

Legal terms often have meanings at variance with the ones ordinary humans use. A recent New York trial court decision suggests that it's reversible error for the jury to understand the normal meaning of a term. In the case, reported in the New York Law Journal, a jury, puzzled by what "preponderance" meant in the judge's instructions, looked up the word in a dictionary. Sounds reasonable enough, but New York City Justice Lottie Wilkins found this to be so improper that the verdict must be set aside and a new trial ordered. According to the Law Journal:

In this case, the misconduct presented a "sufficient likelihood" that the foreman's acts affected jurors' views regarding the meaning of "preponderance," Wilkins ruled.

She suggested that the verdict sheet may have placed "undue emphasis" on the concept of "preponderance of the evidence."

We're not sure exactly how you can put too much emphasis on "preponderance," since that's the standard.

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