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We’ve written about CRISPR (aka human gene editing) before, and wanted to share this new survey with you. When last we blogged, it was to cover the Pew survey on fears about gene editing (and the potential for creation of a super-human). As you can imagine, there was some ambivalence over whether this was a good thing, as well as concerns about the creation of a society where genetically enhanced people ruled those who were not genetically enhanced. Here’s what we wrote a year ago: .

You may be surprised at how ambivalent the public is about using these new tools. As Pew says, “Americans are more worried than enthusiastic” about how these tools will be used. And, as this technology veers more and more into public awareness, being aware of the ambivalence with which Americans view this ground-breaking technology is going to become increasingly important for trial lawyers.

So we were surprised to see a new headline in the online publication The Verge saying that ⅔ of Americans now approve of human gene editing to treat disease. It seemed odd since just last year, Pew’s survey told us this about sick little babies:

Even when it comes to gene editing with the promise of helping prevent diseases for their own babies [emphasis added]—48% support the idea and 50% do not.

And now ⅔ of Americans support gene editing? It just seemed like too sudden a turn around. And—as it turns out, it was. You have probably figured out by now that this is just the latest in a string of directives from us to go to the original source to make sure things are interpreted correctly in secondary source materials.

While the Verge article is based on the full survey results, it does not accurately reflect the ambivalence in the actual survey published by Science Magazine. The graphic illustrating this post shows you that what the headline writers over at The Verge did was to count those who supported human gene editing for specific use as a therapeutic tool to correct disease in human beings. But that leaves out a big part of the picture.

This headline does not include the concerns of those who don’t want the changes to be hereditary and thus change the human germline [aka, these changes would now be inheritable] down the road—which would ostensibly mean that if you are going to have gene editing done, you must either be a male or agree never to have children if you are female so that the germline remains unchanged by human intervention.

And, as you might intuitively predict, what the Science Magazine survey really showed us was that people who had high levels of knowledge on gene editing were more likely to support its use, while those who were religiously active were less likely to support the use of gene editing on humans due to ethical and moral concerns. What both groups agreed on, however, was that scientists should not make these choices alone. Both groups wanted scientists to somehow “engage the public” in a dialogue so that the eventual use of human gene editing would be one that reflected the concerns and wishes of all of American society. That’s a pretty tall bar.

We know that how you ask a question makes a huge difference. If someone is asked whether they think gene editing should be used to protect people from hereditary diseases, they may initially agree. However, when you then ask if they would agree to allow those changes to ‘permanently change the human germline’, you see more resistance to the entire process of human gene editing. As we said back when we blogged on the Pew survey of American attitudes toward gene editing,

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these responses are not necessarily intuitive. While we might intuit that allowing babies to be born without diseases would be a positive thing, respondents did not necessarily agree. They see it as being more complex. Although the parents of that baby struggling with a serious disease would likely strongly support the new technology for helping their child, others might well say “that sounds good, but this is a slippery slope and where will it lead?”.

As with all “hot button” issues, this is one that will require careful pretrial research to identify the most effective way to tell a story that will not set off knee-jerk morally based reactions to the use of new technologies. People want to feel safe from disease, but also from a world where science fiction movies come to life. Equally uncertain is how people see the role of government in nurturing innovation while protecting the public from science run amok.

We think those recommendations still make sense today. When you have an exciting whiz-bang technology like CRISPR, you may get so excited about it that you presume jurors will be excited (and support your case) too. But slow down—with any great advance in technology, there is also often great fear, so do some pretrial research to see how mock jurors respond to your presentation of the technology. It’s likely going to be a pretty complicated response that will require refining your presentation in ways you might not predict.

Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, Emily L. Howell, Kathleen M. Rose, Dominique Brossard, Bruce W. Hardy. U.S. attitudes on human genome editing. Science Magazine, 11 AUGUST 2017 VOL 357 ISSUE 6351.

Images taken from Science Magazine article cited above

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The graphic illustrating this post contains false data. It is just one example of the way false information has been used to heighten racial tensions in the past few years. The graphic is shown here with FALSE in big red letters to help you remember the data shown is simply not true (we’ve blogged about the importance of this visual strategy before here.

The information contained in this post IS true and comes from a new Marshall Project investigation into 400,000 murders by civilians between 1980 and 2014. They begin the report with these bold statements (which are backed up by actual data). Keep in mind that these statistics DO NOT include police shooting of citizens.

When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences.

In one in six of these killings, there is no criminal sanction, according to a new Marshall Project examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than the one for homicides involving other combinations of races.

You may not find this statement as difficult to believe now given the racial tensions exploding all around us in the US but it is still alarming evidence suggesting that Black lives are less valued than other lives. This is not an isolated phenomenon:

“The disparity persists across different cities, ages, weapons, and relationships between killer and victim”.

This is a very important report for you to read if you want to understand the actual numbers surrounding the killing of Black men by White people who are not employees of law enforcement organizations. (That one is a whole different post!)

First, it is important to understand just what is considered a “justifiable homicide” and the Marshall Project defines the concept this way:

Little large-scale research has examined the role of race in “justifiable” homicides that do not involve police. The data examined by The Marshall Project are more comprehensive and cover a longer time period than other research into the question, much of which has focused on controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws.

In the United States, the law of self-defense allows civilians to use deadly force in cases where they have a reasonable belief force is necessary to defend themselves or others. How that is construed varies from state to state, but the question often depends on what the killer believed when pulling the trigger.

“If there are factors—even if they’re stereotypes—that lead the defender to believe he’s in danger, that factors in, whether it’s a righteous cause or not,” said Mitch Vilos, a Utah defense lawyer, gun rights advocate and the author of “Self-Defense Laws of All 50 States.”

As hinted at in the excerpt above, the Marshall Project Report highlights the reality that stereotypes and fears not based in facts may result in wrongful killings that are then not punished accordingly because “it was a mistake”. We wrote about these sorts of irrational fears and stereotypes in an article published after the Trayvon Martin killing as well as on the blog. You can see the full article which was published in The Jury Expert here: The ‘Hoodie Effect’: George, Trayvon and How it Might Have Happened.

Here are a few facts presented in the report (which, again, is based on actual data from the FBI and not just made up to inflame emotions).

The vast majority of killings of Whites are committed by other Whites, and the overwhelming majority of killings of Blacks is by other Blacks.

But killings of Black males by Whites are more than 8x as likely as all others combined to be labeled justifiable [killings].

In comparison, when Hispanics killed black men, about 5.5 percent of cases were called justifiable. When whites killed Hispanics, it was 3.1 percent. When blacks killed whites, the figure was just 0.8 percent. When black males were killed by other blacks, the figure was about 2 percent, the same as the overall rate.

Since this report is about killings labeled as “justifiable”, it doesn’t even address wrongful convictions of Black Americans. For that, you can review this March 2017 report from the University of Michigan: Race and wrongful convictions in the United States..

The actual report contains many graphics showing how the numbers compare to each other and the graphics are eye-opening (to say the least). If you want to be fully informed on the facts involved when it comes to race and murder in the US, you need to read this brief report.

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Every once in a while we run across a tip in the social sciences research that is just begging to be used in litigation advocacy. A while back we found a UK researcher named Tim Perfect who told us a very simple thing: “When you want to increase both volume and accuracy in witness recall, don’t have them tell a story backwards. Just have them close their eyes! It really does increase the number of accurate observations recalled.” We liked his work so much we asked him to write up his research for publication in The Jury Expert (where many others have liked it as well!).

And today, we have another wonderful tidbit of the same sort for you. Anyone who has prepared witnesses for courtroom testimony or deposition knows it can be an anxiety-provoking experience. Witnesses who are anxious will fidget, squint, lick their lips, contort their bodies, rock back and forth in their chairs, or stick their fist in their mouths as we saw in one very unfortunate mock trial example. Jurors take note of these things and, often, come to the conclusion that the witness is lying as opposed to showing anxiety. So for all those who have tried to calm an anxious witness down, here’s an easy (and free) strategy that requires no specialized fMRI equipment or high-tech accoutrements.

Just use pronouns.

How? It is a simple strategy and (in truth) one both of us have used in previous professional lives helping psychotherapy clients manage their own anxieties in stressful situations. What you want is to help the person see themselves testifying as though they were watching a movie of themselves and not projecting their anxieties as they imagine themselves testifying.

The research on which we base this recommendation was summarized at ScienceDaily where the authors said this:

Before any potentially stressful event, people often engage in self-talk, an internal dialogue meant to moderate anxiety.

This kind of self-reflection is common, according to Mark Seery, a University at Buffalo psychologist whose new study, which applied cardiovascular measures to test participants’ reactions while giving a speech, suggests that taking a “distanced perspective,” or seeing ourselves as though we were an outside observer, leads to a more confident and positive response to upcoming stressors than seeing the experience through our own eyes. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology [snip] illustrate how the strategic use of language in the face of tension helps people feel more confident.

It’s something sports psychologists do routinely—they help athletes visualize themselves executing an action successfully. When we did this with psychotherapy clients, we often asked them to observe themselves from a perspective well above the situation in which they found themselves. They could be like a fly on the wall (or see themselves sitting in a chair oddly positioned up by the ceiling) and describe what was happening to “that person” (who was actually them) in the interaction. Then they could play out (like in a movie) how they wanted “that person” to behave and practice doing it that way.

This is a strategy easily generalizable for use in the preparation of witnesses for courtroom or deposition testimony. For example, you might ask the person what they imagine as they consider testifying in court (or deposition) and (if they are anxious about it) they will probably say something like this:

The idea of all those people staring at me makes me short of breath and sweaty feeling. It just really scares me.

You want them to change that self-talk using pronouns to something like this:

When Doug thinks about testifying, Doug is anxious about all the people watching him.

And then, over time and witness preparation, to something like this:

When Doug testifies, the goal he focuses on is being calm, listening carefully, and accurately telling his truth. Doug understands the importance of communicating clearly to the jury and believes he can do that effectively while still being truthful.

You may be concerned that this sort of “self-distancing” strategy would lead to a witness who seems disconnected from their testimony. According to the researchers, you needn’t be concerned. Again, here is an excerpt from the summary over at ScienceDaily:

“We found that self-distancing did not lead to lower task engagement, which means there was no evidence that they cared less about giving a good speech. Instead, self-distancing led to greater challenge than self-immersion, which suggests people felt more confident after self-distancing.”

Seery points out that some of the most important moments in life involve goal pursuit, but these situations can be anxiety provoking or even overwhelming. “Self-distancing may promote approaching them with confidence and experiencing them with challenge rather than threat.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is exactly where you want a witness to be as they consider testifying. You want them to see it as a challenge rather than a threat. Using pronouns to help them distance from the anxiety while rising to the challenge of testifying may help the anxious witness bridge that transition.

Streamer, L Seery, MD Kondrak, CL Lamarche, VM Salesman, TL 2017. Not I, but she: The beneficial effects of self-distancing on challenge/threat cardiovascular responses. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70, 235-241.

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report on racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women. After you read this, you will want to be very careful out there! As it happens, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women in the US who are age 44 or younger. Whether you are more likely to be murdered varies with your race and/or ethnicity. However, one thing does not vary—over half of female victims (where circumstances were known) were killed by “a current or former male intimate partner”. The CDC calls this “intimate partner violence” or IPV.

Here are some of the scary and yet evidence-based facts related to women being murdered through IPV, in data collected between 2003 and 2014.

Common events prior to IPV related homicides were “arguments [29.7%] and jealousy [12%]”. Arguments and jealousy preceding murder were most common among Hispanic victims than among non-Hispanic Black and White victims.

1 in 10 victims of IPV related homicide had experienced violence in the month prior to their death. Most in IPV related homicides were killed by either a current partner (79.2%) or a former intimate partner (14.3%).

Adult female homicide victims (between 2003 and 2014) ranged in age from 18 to 100 (yes, you read that correctly. 100). One third of female homicide victims were between 18 and 29 years old and the largest segment of victims had never married or were single at the time of death. About 15% of women victims who were of reproductive age (18-44 years as defined by the CDC) were either pregnant or less than 6 weeks postpartum.

Non-Hispanic Black women had the highest rate of death due to homicide, while non-Hispanic White women and Asian/Pacific Islander women had the lowest.

One-third of the victims had attended some college or more.

Firearms were used in almost 54% of female homicides. Other methods of killing included sharp instrument (19.8%), hanging, suffocation or strangulation (10.5%), and blunt instrument (7.9%).

To illustrate the heightened emotion and fear before women are killed, the CDC report tells us that over half (54.5%) of these homicides occurred during what is call “another crime in progress”. In these cases, the women were murdered following assault (45.6%), rape and sexual assault (11.1%), and burglary (9.9%).

The statement the CDC uses to begin their Discussion section is obvious and yet jarring.

“Homicide is the most severe health outcome of violence against women.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this data can be used to demonstrate that violence against women often has lethal consequences, and it is often the culmination of domestic violence. These data illustrate the cold reality behind the tendency for homicide investigators to suspect the spouse or intimate partner when women are killed.

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This issue has been the banner of a number of well-known male bloggers who encourage their readers to pile on [with their generally anonymous screen names] when commenters do not agree with the blogger.

These bloggers make comments like, “it’s my blog and I make the rules” to justify boorish behavior. Granted. We don’t choose to interact with bullies—online or otherwise. We have been the subject of the entire spectrum of comment for our writing over the years of The Jury Room, including bizarre and wildly over-the-top trash-talking from a few other bloggers. We do not like it. We ignore it. We move on–as does our readership.

So we were glad to see this article released by the Pew Research Center on Online Harassment in 2017. The really good news is, they released a survey on the same topic in 2014 and so can compare some of the data to see if online harassment is increasing. In a word? Yes. Pew begins by introducing the problem of online harassment this way:

To borrow an expression from the technology industry, harassment is now a “feature” of life online for many Americans. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, it can compromise users’ privacy, force them to choose when and where to participate online, or even pose a threat to their physical safety.

As usual, Pew offers information on just whom they surveyed. In this case, they surveyed 4,248 nationally representative US adults and found that 41% have been harassed themselves and 66% have witnessed the harassment of others online. In some cases, the behaviors are nuisance behaviors like name-calling or efforts to embarrass someone, but 18% of Americans (that is, nearly 1 in 5) “have been subjected to particular severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment, or stalking”.

Social media platforms are an especially harassment-prone area but there are multiple places survey respondents report they have been harassed. Most of them believe harassment is facilitated by the anonymity offered by the internet (and, we would add, the frequent use of pseudonyms). Here are a few of the numbers Pew offers on how many Americans have experienced harassment.

41% of respondents [increased from 35% in 2014] have been personally subjected to at least one type of online harassment: 27% were called offensive names, 22% say efforts were made to intentionally embarrass them, 10% were physically threatened, and 6% reported sexual harassment. The 41% total includes those who’ve experienced particularly severe forms of harassment (Pew defines this as stalking, physical threats, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time).

Young adults (aged 18-29) are especially singled out for harassment (67% have been harassed—41% severely). At the same time, 30-49 years olds experience harassment frequently as well (49%—up 10% since 2014). Americans age 50 and older report harassment at a lower rate (22% also up 5% since 2014).

Harassment online is typically very personal. 14% reported being harassed for political views, 9% for their physical appearance, 8% for their race or gender, 5% for their religion, and 3% for sexual orientation.

When we look at specific racial groups, 25% of Blacks have been harassed online for race or ethnicity as have 10% of Hispanics. The number among Whites is much lower at 3%. In terms of gender, women (11%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to report having been targeted as a result of gender.

62% of Americans see online harassment as a major problem and only 5% think it is not at all a problem. There are significant gender differences of opinion that Pew addresses in detail when it comes to the problems with online harassment. There are also significant differences among those who have been severely harassed (regardless of gender) and these differences include serious emotional distress and damage to their reputations.

These are good things to review at the report itself to help you understand how the exact same behavior is perceived so very differently based on both gender and experiences online. There is also disagreement on who should manage online civility. Some think it is the responsibility of online services while others think the services should just offer better tools to help people address harassment online. Still others think bystanders witnessing abusive behavior online should play a direct role in stopping it.

In addition to the actual survey, Pew also includes a Q&A article explaining how and why they chose to study online harassment. If you are interested in a brief summary rather than reading the entire article (which isn’t that long), they also have a key points summation.

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