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democrat-republicanToday’s researchers are finding political party differences consistently on hot button issues. They simply ask if political affiliation is Republican, Democrat, or Independent, and have found it predictive. In case this paragraph is the only part of this post that you read, we hasten to add [spoiler alert!] that while on some cases it is useful to know (especially those involving tort reform issues or other politically linked controversies), there is often no predictive value related to party affiliation.

These researchers commissioned an October 2013 national survey with 2000 respondents (i.e., registered voters interviewed online) to see if Americans see science as relevant to policy making/writing. They were particularly interested in “how political attitudes, along with religious faith and education, impact views about the proper role of science in shaping public policy”. What they found was that, “most Americans view science as relevant to policy, but that their willingness to defer to science in policy matters varies considerably across issues”.

The results of this paper are complex and we are only going to focus on how they found Republicans and Democrats to be different. The survey asked about 16 different issues (with many of them being potentially divisive): embryonic stem cell research, fetus viability, global warming/climate change, gay adoption, childhood obesity and diet restrictions, AIDS prevention, birth control education, legalizing drug use, mandatory health insurance, regulation of coal production, mandatory background checks for gun permits, producing biotech food and crops, regulation of nuclear power, animal testing for medical research, mandatory childhood vaccinations, and teaching evolution and the origins of humans.

And here is what they found:

Republicans and Democrats do disagree across all 16 items surveyed with Democrats much more likely to defer to science across all 16 issues. It is not that Republicans are anti-science. It is that Democrats are very pro-science and willing to defer to scientists strongly on almost all policy issues.

Republicans and Independents have only slight differences in their responses about deference to science on policy issues. What this survey shows is that Democrats stand alone while Republicans and Independents have a more similar  perspective on scientific findings as the foundation for public policy.

What the researchers say is that identifying as Democrat is connected to a strong, pro-science stance but identifying as Republican is not indicative (at all) of being anti-science. Instead, religious beliefs and political ideology (whether you see yourself as liberal or conservative) is more important than political affiliation.

The researchers think the majority of the American public is comfortable deferring to science on public policy issues and indicate that identifying as Republican was only correlated with decreased willingness to defer to scientific opinion on gay adoption and mandatory health insurance and those decreases did not reach statistical significance.

In short, they conclude, if you want Democrats on your side, use scientific research to back up your policy positions.

From a litigation advocacy position, we see this as indicative of the importance of not making assumptions that your Republican jurors will be conservative and anti-science. While it appears you can make the assumption that Democrat jurors will be very pro-science, you cannot make the opposite assumption about Republican jurors. It is far more likely to come down to attitudes, values and beliefs—and not demographic categories like gender, race, and politics.

Blank, J., & Shaw, D. (2015). Does Partisanship Shape Attitudes toward Science and Public Policy? The Case for Ideology and Religion The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658 (1), 18-35 DOI: 10.1177/0002716214554756

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firesetterThere is a lot of literature on fire-setters but not, apparently, on how psychotic fire-setters differ from those who are not psychotic. As it turns out, there are some significant differences.

Researchers in The Netherlands examined the records of 124 fire-setters (30 psychotic and 94 non-psychotic) sent for pretrial forensic mental health assessments between 2000 and 2010. They were largely male (107 males and 17 females) and on average 32 years old. The researchers compared characteristics in the records and found these differences:

Psychotic fire-setters were older, more often single, more likely to set their fires alone, and more likely to be unemployed. They had a more “extensive and intensive” history of mental health care with higher levels of psychiatric admissions and were more likely to carry diagnoses of psychotic disorders. They had more problems with soft drugs (like cannabis) but showed fewer issues with alcohol. This group set fires for reasons related to their psychosis (e.g., delusions) and were more likely to set fire to their own property. They were often described as “pure fire-setters” (as in, that was all they did of a criminal nature).

Both psychotic and non-psychotic fire-setters were similar in having impulsivity and poor social skills. There were high levels of repeat fire-setting in both groups.

Non-psychotic fire-setters were more likely to have been physically abused as children and tended to set fires out of “anger and revenge or acting out and vandalism”. Non-psychotic fire-setters set fire to the property of others and were more likely to abuse hard drugs and alcohol. They most often set fires along with others and were often intoxicated when fire-setting.

The researchers are quick to point out the limits of their sample and to discuss differences between their findings and the findings in the prior literature. The differences between the two groups seem to be largely related to the mental illness in the psychotic group.

The mentally ill often do not have close relationships, and are often single and unemployed.

Those who start fires based on delusional beliefs are likely to act alone rather than with a group.

If fire-setting is triggered by delusional beliefs, it makes sense that fire-setting would be their only or primary criminal activity.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the psychotic fire-setter needs mental health treatment and medication. If the psychosis is controlled, the fire-setting should stop when the delusions cease or are minimized. The non-psychotic fire-setter, on the other hand, tends to set fires when intoxicated and with a group of intoxicated others. This fire-setter also needs treatment for substance abuse but a jury is more likely to see this defendant as having greater responsible than the psychotic fire-setter. Treatment options for the non-psychotic fire-setter are more likely to be secondary to their criminal sentence.

Dalhuisen, L., Koenraadt, F., & Liem, M. (2015). Psychotic versus non-psychotic firesetters: similarities and differences in characteristics The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 1-22 DOI: 10.1080/14789949.2015.1018927

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How big is that potential juror’s house? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

tiny houseTiny house craze aside, could this be a secret jury selection strategy? In June 2014, the Pew Research Center published a study showing that liberals prefer small, walkable communities while conservatives prefer the more sprawling suburbs. While about half of Americans prefer urban living and half prefer rural life—the split is apparently highly partisan. So Lisa Wade of the blog Sociological Images asks the question for us: “Can you guess someone’s political preferences by the size of their house?”.

To which we would add, “or by their zip code?” It’s an intriguing idea. Say you’ve done pretrial research and have learned your case plays better to those with either more conservative or more liberal leanings. Can you quickly choose between the urban and suburban dweller with positive results for your case? If you’ve read this blog for long, you already know the answer: it probably depends. The goal of research such as this—as far as jury selection is concerned—is to reduce uncertainty. Not everyone in a big suburban house is conservative, and not everyone who lives in a smaller home in a city is liberal. But the research points out a variable that already feels familiar to all of us involved with litigation—there are pockets of conservatism and liberalism.

Not all people live in what researchers would identify as their preferred setting. You will find liberals in the country or suburbs and conservatives in the city. Career focus, phase of life issues from childcare to elder care, financial status, convenience, as well as varying attitudes, beliefs and values, all factor into one’s home address. Microtargeting strategies for advertising, political campaigning have been in use for years, identifying people by factors such as living on specific blocks within zip codes, size and value of homes, ownership of cars, membership in certain churches, and use of particular credit cards. It only makes sense that jury selection would ultimately tap into these strategies. We have been factoring them in for years.

Some of the findings can be understood in practical terms.

We tend to have greater empathy for people we come into contact with, people we feel we relate to and understand (people “like me”).

Those in racially homogeneous precincts don’t feel as able to relate to other races than those who live in mixed race areas.

People who only hang out with the affluent, or with the financially stressed, don’t identify as readily with those who live at the other end of the financial spectrum.

And we tend to gravitate toward those who we feel understand us, as neighbors, fellow church-goers, and cohorts in various other dimensions.

We like people best who are most like us.

While, under strict time and information constraints, you may choose to use broad stereotypes (and this one is at least supported by data rather than assumptions), given the opportunity, there are plenty of other clues you may want to consider in addition to rural, urban, and suburban addresses.

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light skinned black manMost of us have heard of the preference for lighter skin within the African-American community. Some of us have also heard of “colorism” in general—a bias shared by many in our culture. Recently, author Lance Hannon (a sociologist from Villanova University) used data from the 2012 American National Election Study and found that Whites in America tended to see light-skinned Blacks and Hispanics as more intelligent than those with darker skins.

The National Election Study requires interviewers to sit down in a face-to-face survey with respondents (who disclose their income and education level and take a brief vocabulary test). Hannon identified 223 Black or Hispanic respondents who were interviewed by White survey takers. The White interviewers were asked to list each individual respondent’s skin tone on a 10 point scale as well as to estimate the respondent’s intelligence on a 5-point scale ranging from “very low” to “very high”.

What he found is disturbingly consistent: “white observers will look at two identically qualified minorities and assess the lighter skinned one as more intelligent”. Other factors about the respondent simply did not seem to matter.

Specifically, regardless of the respondent’s age group, gender, income, or their vocabulary test score, those respondents the interviewer’s described as “lighter” in skin tone were seen as “more intelligent”.

Educational level of the respondent did predict the interviewer’s assessment of their intelligence, but not as strongly as the respondent’s skin tone predicted the interviewer’s estimate of their intelligence.

If this finding is supported by follow-up studies (which appears likely), it has far-reaching implications for our society. When skin tone has a larger role in estimating intellect than educational level—the tendency to equate lighter skin with higher intelligence is obviously deeply entrenched.

From a litigation advocacy perspective (and an inclusive workplace perspective), this research informs us on biases we may assume without question.

When assessing jurors for your specific case, pay more attention to education and curiosity than to skin tone in estimating intelligence.

Do the same in the workplace. When you are assessing workplace performance, set skin tone (and gender, and age, and ethnicity) aside. Focus instead on concrete behavioral indicators that deserve reward.

Just as we have “learned” to have biases against race and color, we need to “unlearn” those biases and make ourselves consciously aware of them—whether it is in the courtroom or the workplace.

Hannon, L. (2015). White Colorism Social Currents, 2 (1), 13-21 DOI: 10.1177/2329496514558628

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The Personal Sense of Power Scale 

Monday, March 9, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

personal-power-12-14We give you information about various scales from time to time and always put “Scale” in the title of the post so they are readily searchable. This one is a brief measure of the individual sense of personal power. We heard about this scale after writing up a recent blog post and thought it interesting enough to include here.

Essentially, this is an 8-item measure you can use to determine the sense of personal power an individual believes they have. And even if you have no intention of making use of the scale, you can look at it to understand what researchers identify as the characteristics of personal power. A key factor in reaching conclusions about the validity of this scale is that the researchers found (in 5 studies with 9 separate samples and a total of 1,141 participants) that “those who think they can get their way in a group also believed that they can influence fellow group members’ attitudes and opinions”. The authors list varying instructions to be given depending on whether you are using the scale to assess one’s sense of personal power with friends, parents, groups, negotiations, and other interactions. “Personal power”, say the researchers, is not the same across all relationships and so assessing specifically for the group in which you are interested is important.

This article on scale development was published in a mainstream psychological journal and they carefully developed and carefully analyzed the variations in sense of personal power across distinct relationships. Additionally, they were interested in whether a personality factor like dominance or socioeconomic status were also related to one’s sense of personal power.

Overall, the researchers found a number of variables related to (and not related to) personal power.

Those who had higher internal locus of control (i.e., beliefs that we control our own fate) also saw themselves as having a higher power in their relationships with others.

The personal sense of power was positively related to being extraverted, being conscientious, being open to new experiences and positively related to self-esteem. A personal sense of power was negatively related to being neurotic.

“…individuals can reliably gauge their power in single discrete dyadic interactions, longer-term relationships, larger social groups, and in general, across all important relationships and groups.”

Contrary to many academically designed scales, the items on this one are both low in number (only eight items) and couched in plain language. They are placed on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Here are three questions from the scale (if you want to see all of them, go to the article itself.

Even if I voice them, my views have little sway.

I think I have a great deal of power.

My ideas and opinions are often ignored.

The remaining five items are similar in language and complexity to these. They are user-friendly and surprisingly jargon-free. Personal power and the impact it has in a group of decision-makers is interesting, and it raises additional questions. Some people with personal power are charismatic, while others are simply self-involved. Some have influence, others make people want to wring their necks. In jury selection, we consider who the leaders are likely to be, who the followers are, and whether what we can understand of the personalities and styles of jurors will produce cooperation and collaboration, or whether people will rush to judgment in an effort to get away from one another. The concepts embedded in this scale may help you make those determinations.

Anderson, C., John, O., & Keltner, D. (2012). The Personal Sense of Power. Journal of Personality, 80 (2), 313-344 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2011.00734.x

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