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On Hispanic Jurors: Religiosity and Values

Friday, July 9, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

globe hispanic countriesAs Texas-based trial consultants we see a lot of Hispanic jurors and are always intrigued by the subtle variances in values that pop up from time to time in cases.  Even well-intended observers and professionals can make some important mistakes.  Assumptions about “Hispanic jurors” are often simplistic and naively racist, as this is as complex a cultural group as any other.  There are differences within any group from a given national origin, as well as variance between those from, for example, Mexico versus Venezuela or El Salvador.

A while back we did a focus group on a case involving salacious infidelity, strained family relations, and abortion. Hot button issues for many but we thought especially for our Hispanic jurors for whom “family values” and religion are often driving forces in decision-making on cases. We were curious to see how Hispanic jurors in particular would hear this story.

What we saw was intriguing—Hispanic jurors saw a straight-forward defendant (the party who admitted marital transgressions) and a strained and seemingly withholding plaintiff.  They joined with other jurors in supporting the party they saw as honest and credible. The rest of the story fell into place around their perceptions of the witnesses. When questioned about the aspects of the case that contradicted their own values, they simply said that those facts made a sad situation worse but were irrelevant to determining verdict.  He was very imperfect, but he was honest, and he loved his kids.  They liked his warmth; they were put off by the frosty harshness of the Plaintiff.

Now we see some data from the blog Gene Expression that offers new insights. According to Razib Khan, the blogger at Gene Expression, we often make the assumption that since Hispanics are often Roman Catholic, they will have very conservative social views. Khan uses data from the General Social Survey to examine various religious beliefs and behaviors and compare non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Hispanics on these factors.

What he concludes is that support for the notion that Hispanics are ‘always’ more religiously conservative is spotty at best. According to Khan, Hispanics are more religious than the median American but the main issue where a noticeable difference arises is around the question of abortion. He opines that this is likely a cultural issue since many Hispanics or their families are of recent origin from nations where abortion is illegal.

We like to see data such as Khan provides to help us understand the ‘why’ of various values and behaviors. In our experience, the best attitude for us to have when taking on any new case is one of curiosity. What will jurors think of this case? Will different groups see it differently? Are there group cultural values that interact with this fact pattern or are there shared beliefs that will override general pre-existing attitudes? Curiosity leaves us open to learning. And the more open we are, the more we learn about blind spots in our cases.

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