July 2014 Bar Bulletin
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July 2014 Bar Bulletin

The Impact of Jury Constitution on Deliberations

By Thomas M. O'Toole and Kevin R. Boully

 

A wealth of research has examined the extent to which jurors' demographics relate (or not) to verdict preferences in various case types. It is difficult to discern how useful these findings are for trial lawyers or jury consultants, but based upon our experience, demographics tell you very little about what might happen with your jury.

One reason demographics are unreliable is the often incorrect assumption that people of similar demographics have similar attitudes and experiences. You and your law school classmates have a lot in common, but a reliably consistent attitude about a variety of topics is probably not one of them.

A second reason, which is the focus of this article, is that these studies adopt an individual focus while the outcome of jury deliberations is often a product of the group dynamic. In other words, there are common personality types that emerge in a deliberation setting and these personality types can significantly alter the group's final verdict.

We often conduct mock trials with anywhere from three to six groups of deliberating mock jurors. It is rare for all juries to reach the same verdict across the board despite the fact that all groups viewed the same presentations and evidence. Often, the conflicting outcomes can be attributed to the social dynamic of deliberations.

Yet, there is little to no research that has examined the personality types that emerge within the jury deliberation environment. This is surprising and highlights one of the common oversights as attorneys prepare for trial. It is easy to focus on the simple concern of whether your argument is persuasive, but the burden does not end there. It is critical to craft a presentation strategy that best situates your advocates on the jury to exert influence during deliberations. Sometimes the case presentation influences the personality type that your advocates take on during deliberations.

One of the challenges of conducting research on this issue may be the lack of methodological designs that would lend scientific validity to the findings, which is certainly a shortcoming of this piece.1 However, we have more than two decades of experience watching and interviewing thousands of mock jurors, shadow jurors and actual jurors, and the list below, while not exhaustive, represents the most common personality types we have seen emerge in deliberations that can influence the final verdict.

Armed and Dangerous: This is your ideal advocate. An armed and dangerous juror possesses both the motivation to advocate on your client's behalf and the tools to be an effective advocate during deliberations. In other words, this juror can credibly and persuasively argue your case in the jury room. This juror is the most influential juror in most deliberation settings.

Dangerously Unarmed: This juror has the passion, but lacks the tools, which can put your client in a dangerous position. Jurors who lack confidence in their ability to rearticulate key arguments often remain silent, which accomplishes nothing for your client. But sometimes, silence is preferable.


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