Juries’ verdicts influenced by their individual dispositions

How are the Juries’ verdicts influenced by their individual dispositions and by their working together? Explain with examples from Pakistani Society.

It is impossible for a single juror to comprehend all of the facts, events, and nuances contained in a courtroom case presentation. No matter how intelligent or experienced a juror is in making important decisions, every juror, like every person, has limitations. For example, individual jurors engage in a variety of coping mechanisms which “filter” information and shape perceptions so as to create understanding and comfortable feelings and to minimize dissonance. Individual jurors are also limited in their decision making abilities by varying emotional reactions, differing assessments of attribution, varying intellectual capacities, varying abilities to recall, differences in cultural views and sensitivities, widely varying life experiences, and many other factors.

As a result, jurors construct different stories or assessments of court cases even though every juror was exposed to the same facts, evidence and arguments in the case. They construct their own version of the facts and motivations of each of the trial participants. This process of applying a juror’s understanding of life and the creation of a narrative or story for the case being presented to them in court is the driving force behind an individual juror’s decision about the case. Once a narrative has become firmly visualized, jurors will rarely change their opinions about what happened, although they will occasionally change their minds about how the events in the case should be legally classified.

Ironically, the same limitations and characteristics of jurors which give meaning to individuality are also strengths with which the jury group as a whole can arrive at a fair and equitable decision. Differing insights and differing views of events and motivations provide the group with a more complete perspective out of which better quality decisions can be made.

There are a number of ways in which various processes within a jury influence another juror’s individual decision making. For example, in the context of group decision making, information is exchanged as a byproduct of the social interaction which occurs within the group. Knowledge may be acquired that might not have otherwise occurred to individuals without the interaction because of inexperience or lack of knowledge. It is in this critical point in the jury deliberation process, for example, that jurors with any relevant life experience will generally speak up, and sometimes become instant experts.

It is human nature for jurors to talk to each other about the case during the trial and certainly during deliberations despite court admonitions. But regardless of when the substantive interaction begins, each member of the group typically begins with a set of ideas about his or her own goals and the alternative choices. As discussion emerges, individuals share their ideas with others, and in a larger jury 8-12 people, they are especially likely to share their ideas with other members of a subgroup with whom they share characteristics. Gradually, the sharing of ideas through their social interaction influences the development of each individual’s cognitive representations of the case and the decision to be reached, as well as those of the entire jury or any subgroup.

The information exchanged by members of the group includes both cognitive and affective information ( i.e. how each of the jurors thinks and feels about the issues in the case). The differences in the effects of each are interesting and profound. As a practical matter, it is also impossible to separate one’s thinking about a set of circumstances from one’s emotional reaction to them. However, in the process of sharing cognitive and affective information, the recipient of a shared idea will likely react differently than the originator, although the recipient may be motivated to act in complete concert with the originator. As a result, jurors will often (if not usually) arrive at the same conclusion, although their thoughts and feelings (rationale) about it may be different.

Similarly, in the quest to comprehend and solve any dilemmas presented in a case, jurors almost always learn and understand the case more completely only after discussion within the group. There are many reasons which underlie this principle. For example, the group as a whole usually has a more complete data base than any of its members for problem-solving. It is not likely than any individual member of the jury has acquired or has access to all of the pieces of information needed to solve the group’s problem.

One of the most important lessons for us is that as a general proposition, the knowledge presented in a case in court is not developed or presented in an explicitly stated and usable form for individuals to easily adapt in making a complete decision. For this reason, one of the most important challenges for any trial attorney is to arrange the case into a simple and easily digestible story form that conforms with the way jurors go about resolving the case.

The interaction of a group can provide motivation to arrive at a more complete and morally supportable decision than one individual juror acting alone. Interpersonal energy among jurors, either positive or negative, tends to enliven and stimulate more complete and acceptable discussion and results.

Because of the limitations that an individual experiences in the formation of a story which explains the case, a narrative which at first appears to be complete to those of us on the trial team, is often determined to be inadequate or inappropriate once expressed before the rest of the jury group. The checks and balances offered by a multiple person jury helps to insure what is often referred to as justice. Whether there is more justice dispensed by a 6 person jury or a 12 person jury, we will leave to the philosophers.

Abstract – A trial by jury is possibly the single most defining feature of the common law legal system. As a people we hold a trial by jury as the ideal form of unbiased judicial procedure. However, one should be concerned with this belief, especially due the the preponderance of experimental evidence that suggests the jury system is failing in almost every one of its goals. This review considers evidence that portrays the ‘jury of one peers’ as a group that is highly susceptible to stereotypes, manipulation, and influences, all of which go far beyond the scope of legally relevant information.

A trial by jury is one of the most characteristic aspects of common law criminal procedures. The origin of a jury of one’s peers resides as far back as 1215 to the concessions of King John toward his nobles in the Magna Charter. Since then many countries have incorporated this procedure into their criminal law systems, with the United States using trials by jury more so then any other country (Fairchild, 1983).

In a perfect, just world, the jury system would provide a fair and elaborate procedure through which a defendant’s potential guilt in the violation of criminal laws would be determined in an unbiased manner. However, empirical evidence suggests that this “fair and unbiased” procedure is failing. Baldwin and McConville (1979) found that as many as 5 percent of jury trials in England came up with disturbingly questionable convictions. And this conclusion is not limited to investigators, Kalven and Zeisal (1966) noted that judges and jurors disagreed regarding the verdicts in as many as 20 percent of cases. An ever growing body of evidence, some of which will be reviewed here, suggests that juries may be, both consciously and unconsciously, using a number of extra-evidential factors in order to come to their decisions. This review will culminate the data from a number of psychological studies in an attempt to outline how the attributes of the defendant, juror, attorney, judge, and the crime, can manipulate a juries decision processes.

Influence of Defendants Attributes

The majority of experiments considering the psychological implications of the common law jury system focus on the influential effects of defendants characteristics. Foley and Chamblin (1982) show that jurors are influenced, beyond the scope of evidence, by race. In their study white and black male subjects were exposed to cases with defendants and victims of varied race. Two main patterns emerged: (1) white subjects showed a stereotypical bias with the placements of higher guilt against black defendants, especially in those cases that involved white victims. (2) Black subjects did not show any significant interracial biases, however they did present a strong bias against intra-racial cases with defendants and victims of the same race. This pattern may be due to the black communities increased awareness of interracial violence. The data shows that defendants are being evaluated by jurors beyond the scope of the evidence, and at least in the case of black defendants it may not be possible to get a fair trial by either white or black jurors.

Wolfgang and Reidol (1973) showed that racial differences could even be strong enough to influence the imposition of something as serious as the death penalty. Blacks convicted of raping a white woman (rape at the time was punishable by death in the southern states) were executed at 18 times a greater rate then any other racial combination. Even in today’s pro-equality environment most psychologists would not be surprised by this finding. What might not be quite as expected is the great number of additional attributes that can influence jurors decisions. Landy and Aronson (1969) exposed mock jurors to identical cases, with only the status of the defendants being manipulated. Jurors were led to believe that the defendants were either of high, average, or low status. Upon making their decisions it became clear that jurors were giving low status defendants much harsher decisions then medium and high status ones.

Dowdle, Gillen, and Miller (1974) replicated the status experiment, but instead manipulated the defendant’s overall characteristics. They found that the defendants who had been attributed with positive characteristics were treated with extremely significant leniency as compared to those with negative characteristics. A final replication carried out by Sigal and Landy (1972) showed identical results with likeable and unlikeable defendants.

One very interesting experiment showed the complexity that the defendant-attribute effect could obtain (Sigal & Ostrove, 1975). This study showed that juror’s attributions of guilt upon a defendant, and thereby their sentencing recommendations, vary depending on how well the defendant fits the juror’s stereotype of the crime and the criminal that they believe is typical of that particular crime. Two conditions were manipulated by the experimenters, defendant’s attractivity and the type of crime they were accused of, theft or swindle. Two clear effects occurred. First, unattractive defendants got larger sentences when being charged with theft. Secondly, attractive defendants received more severe sentences, then unattractive ones, when accused of swindling. The authors believe that these effects occur because of how well the defendants fit the stereotype for the particular crime. When attractiveness is related to the crime, like swindling, the defendant appears to the juror to be a more typical fit for that crime, and is thereby easier to perceive as guilty. The same effect occurs for theft, where unattractive defendants are perceived as being more typical.

It seems clear that a defendant’s characteristics have a strong influence on a jurors decision making processes. It also appears that, for completely irrelevant reasons, jurors will in some situations actually empathize with the defendants. Austin, Walster, and Utne (1976) exposed jurors to cases where the defendants received no, moderate, or excessive harm while attempting to escape capture. It was clear that jurors gave increased leniency to defendants with increased suffering. DeJong, Morris, and Hastorf (1976) looked at whether irrelevant empathy would go beyond the somewhat understandable “already payed for it” idea. In their experiment, the relevant condition was whether or not the defendant’s accomplice was captured or had escaped without the possibility of capture. The empathy effect occurred again, with the greater number of years of punishment being sentenced to those whose accomplice had been captured.

Influence of Jurors Attributes

Beyond the effects of a defendant’s characteristics on jury decision making, it appears that a number of aspects of the juror as an individual are significantly relevant. A three-factor juror personality construct implicates the relevance of juror authoritarianism, belief in an internal or external locus of control, and a believe in a just world.

Berg and Vidmar (1975) examined the effect of jurors degree of authoritarianism on the severity of verdicts and the type of trial information that was being attended too. Their results indicated that high authoritarians are significantly more severe jurors than low authoritarians, particularly so with low-status defendants. When tested, high authoritarian subjects recalled mainly legally-insignificant information regarding the defendant’s characteristics.

The relationship between jurors beliefs regarding internal and an external locus of control (the belief that individuals do or do-not have complete control over their lives and actions) and their deliberation decision processes were investigated by Phares and Wilson (1972). The author’s found that mock-jurors that scored high on a measure of internal control attributed more responsibility to the defendants than jurors that scored high on a measure of external control. Sosis (1974) believes that these effects occur because of projection. In other words, it appears that jurors apply their own self-perceptions of responsibility onto their judgements of others. This finding may be of significant importance to cases regarding criminal neglect, recklessness, and other offences of a typically non-lethal manner.

The third juror personality construct, believe in a just world, concerns a subjects belief that we live in a world where people get what they deserve and deserve what they get. Lerner (1970) explained that under certain circumstances innocent victims can be blamed for their misfortunes so that the observer can maintain their just world beliefs. Auckerman and Gerbasi (1973) investigated Lerner’s hypothesis with a mock-jury of undergraduates. It was shown that subjects who ranked high on a just world scale held more respectable victims less responsible for crimes committed against them, after all, in their minds they did nothing to deserve it. While at the other end of the scale, unrespectable victims (e.g., prostitutes) were held highly responsible for their victimization. In summary, experimental data suggests that authoritarianism level, belief in internal-external control, and belief in a just world, all influence a jurors decision making processes to an extent where they ignore relevant pieces of information and focus on irrelevant ones.

Further investigations have suggested that juror characteristics may go beyond the clear influences of the aforementioned personality constructs. Evidence suggests that jurors with prior experience can show an increased disposition toward conviction (Reed, 1965; Jurow, 1971). Skolnick (1966) suggests that this is due to the courtroom experienced jurors tendency to believe, often falsely, that the authorities apprehend only guilty individuals, thereby creating a “guilty bias.” However, the evidence, from which Skilnick’s work is based on, is primarily inferential. A more methodologically sound study has shown that a guilty bias does not always occur. Nagao and Davis (1980) used criminal cases to display the many patterns of jury experience that do exist. Subjects were placed into one of two mock jury situations and presented with two criminal cases of varied severity, a rape (severe crime) case and a vandalism case (the non-severe crime). Jury one deliberated first on the rape case and secondly on the vandalism case. Jury two was presented with the same two cases, but in the opposite order. The juries displayed significantly different patterns of conviction. Jury one, which deliberated on the rape case first, convicted the vandalism defendants at a significantly higher rate then jury two. While jury two, which first deliberated on the vandalism case, convicted rape defendants at a significantly lower rate. The author’s suggested that these results can be experienced by Skolnick’s “guilty bias” along with the existence of an opposing “innocent bias.” The author’s believe that the pattern by which jurors found rape defendants guilty less often after experiencing a vandalism case may be due to a shift in the perceived burden of proof caused by an “innocent bias.” Vandals were found not guilty more often then the defendants in the rape case. Those who were exposed to the vandalism case first may have come to believe that innocent people do in fact get charged with crimes, which in turn increases the juror’s anxiety over the possibility of convicting an innocent person. At the opposite extreme a “guilt bias” lowers the burden of proof when subjects were first exposed to the rape case. The emotional severity of a rape case, along with the tendency of the prosecution proceeding with a greater amount of evidence then they might with a vandalism case, reinforces the idea that guilty people are the ones that get charged, thereby lowering the juror’s anxiety about finding defendants guilty.

Many of North America’s courts have now considered this issue and have thereby limited a juror’s term to one case, suggesting that this may now be a nonissue. However, this author believes that these patterns may not disappear as quickly as policymakers expect. In today’s multimedia world of Court TV and CNN we are being presented with entire criminal trials, with each viewer being given that opportunity of being on a worldwide jury.

As it has been shown, previous exposure to a judicial environment, whether actual or possibly even superficially via media-trial exposure, can potentially confound a subject’s general ability to be an unbiased juror. It also appears that exposure to publicity regarding a particular crime can effect the ability of potential jurors to enter the court without preconceived verdicts.

Moran and Cutler (1991) surveyed potential jurors in order to determine any effects that may be occurring as the result of pre-trial media exposure. Their findings showed that exposure to publicity regarding the crime and the accused was highly correlated to the existence of predetermined conclusions of the defendants guilt. Linz and Pinrod (1992) found that this effect goes far beyond the jurors preconceived beliefs, and that even after unbiased and judicially significant information was provided to the subjects during the trial, jurors who had received greater amounts of media exposure were more prone to convict the accused. Baron and Bryne (1997) suggest that pretrial publicity, which in its most dramatic form shows the suspect being taken away in handcuffs, forces us to form an impression of that suspect. This first impression is most often one of guilt. This first impression in turn influences the acceptance of all subsequent information, possibly leading one to accept questionable information that implies guilt, while rejecting information that favors innocence.

Influence of Attorney’s Attributes

One would most certainly expect that a defendant’s attributes, as well as a jurors personality characteristics, would have some sort of an effect on a jurors decision making processes. It is also to be expected that certain attributes of the defendant’s attorney, such as composure and persuasiveness, would influence the jury. Villemur and Shibley-Hyde (1993) preformed a dramatic experiment that showed that jurors can be biased by attorney attributes beyond those typically expected. In their experiment, jurors were exposed to a 50-minute audiotape of a rape trial, while looking at photographs of the female victim and male defendant. In the test conditions the defendant’s attorney was manipulated as either male or female. The study resulted in a strikingly significant finding. The defendant’s acquittal rate under the female defense attorney condition was 71%, while under the male attorney condition the acquittal rate was 49%. The author’s provided three possible explanations for this result: (1) it may be an instance of what has been termed the talking platypus phenomenon, through which jurors are so amazed that a woman can be a competent lawyer that her performance is over evaluated, similar to how we would be amazed by a talking platypus – it’s not what it says that’s important, it’s a wonder that it can say anything. (2) The female attorney may be more persuasive, because, as a woman, it seems not to be in her best interest to defend a person who is indeed guilty of rape. (3) the fact that the attorney is female may be shifting the jury’s attention away from the defendant’s gender, and the fact that this is a crime that tends to prey on females via a male predator. Regardless of which explanation is correct, this attorney-gender effect provides just another example of how a jury can be manipulated by irrelevant information and thereby fails at their assigned task.

Influence of Judge’s Attributes

It appears that the opinion of the judge, although unstated, can influence the opinion of jurors (1995). In Hart’s ingenious study, judges’ instructions to the jury of a criminal case were videotaped, along with the collection of their written decisions regarding the defendants guilt or innocence. Jurors who had witnessed a completely different case were then shown the judges taped deliberation instructions, while being led to believe that these instructions were from the same criminal case that they had just viewed. Jurors were found to be significantly more likely to give a guilty verdict when the judge expected a guilty vote in the completely unrelated case. It would appear that the judge’s nonverbal behavior was influencing the juror’s decisions, a fact that shows just how malleable the jurors can be.

Procedural Concerns

A number of aspects of deliberation procedures also suggest that the jury process may be failing. James (1959) found that while deliberating jurors were not using their time effectively. Fifty percent of the jury’s time was used discussing opinions and personal experiences, often only indirectly related to the trial; about 35% of their time was used considering instructions and procedural issues, with only 15% of jurors time spent deliberating on testimonial evidence.

An investigation of jury deliberation by Hawkins (1962) looked at the amount of juror participation when more then one opinion was held within the group. He found that the larger faction spoke for a much greater amount of time, and that the minority opinion was stifled. Kalven and Zeisel (1966) hypothesized that jury deliberation does not accomplish its primary task of find facts, but rather allows the majority opinion to persuade the minority to shift toward agreement.

Group discussion can even lead to improper decisions when all the jurors’ opinions are in agreement. Social psychological theory predicts that once jury-members discuss their opinions, and find that they all share it, the group will use this information to further reinforce their decision and will often take it to an extreme level. In their study, Myers and Kaplan (1976) investigated this issue of group polarization. In their study subjects were exposed to high and low guilt situations, subsequently being asked to give their verdict and sentence. Subjects were then placed together into a mock jury and told to have an open discussion deliberation. As expected those who had originally made low guilt decisions became increasingly lenient after deliberating, while those who held high guild opinions made increasingly severe decisions.

It should be mentioned that open-discussion deliberation is not without benefits. A study by Izzet and Leginski (1974) showed that group discussion can lessen the effects of stereotypes regarding the defendants, and secondly eliminates the effect of these biased attitudes on sentencing recommendations.

General Discussion

As this review has shown, there is numerous areas of concern regarding the effectiveness of the common law jury system. Dozens of psychological studies have provided evidence for the influence of the defendants, jurors, attorneys, and judges characteristics. The majority of these studies imply that the unbiased nature of the jury system is a charade, and that the jury system is failing at its primary goal, to provide a fair trial. Is the jury system irreparable? Most do not believe so. One major advocate of change Adler (1994) has made three suggestions that he believes may save the jury system. First, he recommends the elimination of peremptory challenges. Secondly, the elimination of exemptions for the best-educated members of society (e.g., doctors and professors). Finely, Adler recommends that we change the rules so that jurors can both make notes and ask approved questions. This author personally believes that these suggestions would not be effective in solving the main problems of the jury system. I believe the only valid solution is to take the time to educate the jurors regarding the irrelevant information that can manipulate their decisions making processes. A common effect found in psychological studies is that when subjects are informed of variables that are unconsciously affecting them, they can often eliminate the influence of such effects. I propose that an effective program for solving the jury system faults would begin by briefly educating the jurors about these influences prior to the trial, perhaps in the form of a videotaped presentation. Secondly, I would suggest that prior to deliberation judges should remind jurors to focus on the evidence that has been presented and not the characteristics of the defendant that they have observed during the trial, with the exception of those that have been obtained from a defendant’s actions on the witness stand. A final step that may be pursued is to make the jury’s foreman responsible to reemphasize the importance of the juror’s to look beyond these irrelevant influences. Of course before considering implementing such a strategy it should be scientifically studied, so that its validity and effectiveness can first be determined.

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