Two of the Top Factors that Influence Jury Decision-Making
Jurors notoriously don’t make decisions as told. While judges instruct jurors to listen objectively to both sides, evaluate the evidence, and then make a judgment, that’s not how jury decision-making generally happens. Instead, jurors tend to make preliminary conclusions based on their pre-existing beliefs and outside social factors.
Referred to as motivational reasoning, jurors filter everything presented to them through these biases and selectively evaluate the evidence to fit their predetermined conclusion. That typically means accepting the information they like and ignoring anything that contradicts or doesn’t fit.
Because jurors often struggle to weigh both sides of the case objectively, it becomes critical for trial attorneys to be able to evaluate potential jurors successfully. Courtroom Sciences’ jury consulting services apply a psychometric methodology to fully assess juror profiles in voir dire to learn about pre-existing biases, helping uncover invaluable information critical for achieving superior litigation outcomes.
What factors influence jury decision-making?
Attitudes, beliefs, experiences, and personality types are the factors that will most accurately predict and influence jury decision-making. While demographics can be a starting point for juror profiling, demographics are not predictive of juror behavior in and of themselves. Additionally, there are many commonly held beliefs and stereotypes regarding these demographics. For example, assuming that someone who is an engineer will naturally lean toward the defense is nothing more than a myth.
Factor #1: Jurors are Influenced By Their Beliefs and Attitudes
Juror biases are unavoidable. While individuals holding an explicit bias against a particular group are aware of their bias and self-report it, implicit bias is often an unconscious prejudice they do not openly admit to. Therefore, implicit bias can be more challenging to identify. Some examples may include a witness’s perceived culture or religion.
Although implicit biases operate at an unconscious level, they are just as influential in a juror's decision-making as an explicit bias, influencing how a juror recalls and interprets the information presented to them and, ultimately, how they determine the outcome of a case. Both implicit and explicit biases can lead jurors to avoid information they may find unwelcome or uncomfortable. Biases may also cause jurors to see patterns or connections between ideas that aren’t necessarily there.
The challenge for trial attorneys is identifying potential jurors who hold these hidden biases. Jurors may be inclined to hide biases, particularly ones that they feel are less socially acceptable. When asked difficult or sensitive questions, jurors may try to deliver answers that make them sound better, offering half-truths if they know their full opinion may reflect poorly on them.
Factor #2: Jurors are Influenced by Outside Social Factors and Stressors
It’s not uncommon for jurors to feel stressors inherent to their distinct roles. These stressors may include trial duration, feeling a burden of responsibility, and a desire to do the right thing. Another stressor inherent to jurors is often the burden of the group dynamic, particularly when there may be pressure to comply with the opinions of the majority. However, jurors concurrently deal with personal issues such as:
-Job loss or stress
-The recent death of someone close
-Substance abuse issues
Jurors bring these outside social factors to the case they will be hearing, which may affect their understanding of the evidence and their decision on a verdict. These underlying factors and experiences may cause jurors to behave in atypical ways, causing them to be highly distractible, as their focus may be elsewhere, or they may cause other emotional responses.
The combination of these factors may cause jurors to be more likely to engage in heuristic or experiential information processing mode. Also referred to as an intuitive mode, jurors cannot carefully consider all the evidence and testimony presented in this processing mode. Instead, they may rely on their initial reactions and mental shortcuts to reach a decision quickly.
To uncover and mitigate factors that can influence jury decision-making, trial attorneys need to take the time to ask probing questions during voir dire or through supplemental juror questionnaires. Carefully crafted questions can provide insights into a juror's propensity for gut-level, rapid processing versus analytical processing. Trial attorneys should not be afraid to ask follow-up or additional questions either. Getting the juror to explain their thoughts and beliefs can give the trial attorney the information needed to ascertain whether they are a favorable or unfavorable juror.
Courtroom Sciences delivers the most predictive jury assessment programs. Our Ph.D.-level psychology professionals help trial attorneys uncover pre-existing biases to compose the optimal jury. Learn how CSI's jury consultants can aid your next case.
● Jurors tend to draw preliminary conclusions based on their pre-existing beliefs and outside social factors.
● Attitudes, beliefs, experiences, and personality types are the factors that will most accurately predict and influence jury decision-making.
● Implicit biases may influence how a juror recalls and interprets the information presented to them and, ultimately, how they determine the outcome of a case.
● Outside social factors and stressors may affect a juror's understanding of the evidence and their resulting opinion on a verdict.
● Courtroom Sciences' Ph.D.-level professionals can help trial attorneys compose the optimal jury.
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