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beyond distrustWe’ve been tracking trust in government for about 15 years. While that isn’t as long as Pew Research has been doing it, we’ve been struck by the chronically low scores we see when our mock jurors respond to a question about trust in government. As the graphic illustrating this posts demonstrates—our mock jurors seem to reflect changing views of the federal government across the country.

This recent Pew report (based on more than 6,000 interviews conducted between 8/27/2015 and 10/4/2015) is well worth your time to read—you likely will be surprised at how deep the distrust goes. As in the graphic to the left, when 55% of Americans surveyed think “ordinary Americans would do better job solving problems” than our elected officials will—there is clearly a problem.

However, as Pew points out, there is not a blanket sense of dissatisfaction and distrust evident—there are instead areas where the American people are satisfied and are trusting the federal government. Americans tend to divide along political lines when it comes to how large a role government should play in our lives. But there is bipartisan support that government should play a major role in “terrorism, natural disasters, food and medicine safety, and roads and infrastructure”. Most of the areas where we see partisan differences about the role of the government come when we examine the “social safety net” (e.g., helping people get out of poverty, ensuring access to health care, ensuring basic income for those 65 and older, protecting the environment, and ensuring access to high quality education).

We always appreciate Pew’s work on social issues and their ability to sample large random groups of American citizens. We see their work as being on a macro scale and ours as on a micro scale. They look at attitudes across the country and we look at attitudes in specific venires with small quasi-randomly selected groups of mock jurors. Many times, the mock jurors we see do not reflect the macro views of the country as reflected in Pew’s surveys. Distrust in the federal government though is pervasive among our mock jurors.

We follow Pew Research fairly closely to keep an eye on how attitudes, values and beliefs are changing across the country and to see if that mirrors our own (smaller scale) observations. We don’t simply measure and observe like Pew does though. We measure but we also have been watching how our pretrial mock jurors respond for long enough that we know which responses we find most interesting (and sometimes most dangerous) for our case. We use that information to help with voir dire and jury selection when applicable and to help structure a case story that plugs the narrative holes a juror could leap through with both feet.

We read and rely on Pew and other, competing organizations for current information on how things are changing across the country. We would encourage you to start watching them more closely as well.

Pew Research Center, November 23, 2015. Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government.


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We are now in ABA’s Blawg 100 Hall of Fame!

Monday, November 30, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene


We’ve recently been informed that The Jury Room has been inducted into the ABA Journal Blawg 100 Hall of Fame! Okay, it’s not a Pulitzer, but we are wildly happy about it. To our way of thinking, it is the greatest honor The Jury Room could be given. We appreciate the recognition. Closer to truth, we are shocked. Every December from 2010-2014 we have been delighted to be included in the Blawg 100, but this was not even on our radar screen. Here’s a link to the 2015 ABA Blawg Hall of Fame and a link to the 2015 Blawg 100 honorees.

Here’s how the ABA describes the Blawg 100 Hall of Fame:

In 2012, we established the Blawg 100 Hall of Fame for those blogs which had consistently been outstanding throughout multiple Blawg 100 lists. The inaugural list contained 10 inductees; this year, we added 10 more, bringing the total to 40.

And here is how they described this blog on their roster:

Trial consultants Douglas Keene and Rita Handrich find the research to alternately back up what you think you already know about human psychology (Is rudeness contagious? Yes.) and alert you to the unexpected (Are “beer goggles” real? No.) Posts are both fascinating reads and lessons on how not to base your cases on stereotypical assumptions.

We were inspired to begin blogging by Anne Reed (formerly of Deliberations blog and now leading the charge at the Wisconsin Humane Society). Once we got started blogging, we realized it was a wonderful way to keep up with the changing literature and to share what we were learning along the way. Looking back over the 900+ posts, we still find it interesting to blog as well as a great impetus for our own continuing education. Thank you, ABA Journal, for your recognition of our work over the last 6-1/2 years.

Doug and Rita

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

Gallup on lost confidenceLost-confidenceGallup

For several years now, we have watched our mock jurors express increasing disgust at government, large corporations, and politicians. We have written before about their unwillingness to identify with a national political party and the 2014 Gallup Poll showing the same pattern we have been seeing on a national basis.

In a recent pretrial focus group involving an auto accident resulting in death, jurors began spontaneously talking about General Motors and their ignition problems and the choice to keep it a secret (even though GM was not involved in the fact pattern and was not raised in the presentations). They expressed high levels of disgust with GM and then acknowledged that disgust colored their perceptions of the auto manufacturer involved in the current dispute. Then a juror mentioned Wall Street and the mortgage collapse and another mentioned political logjams in Congress and they had to be refocused on the case at hand.

As they deliberated, the themes of disgust and distrust returned repeatedly with jurors who were all-too-willing to assume the worst of the Defendants. From the jurors’ perspectives, the auto maker’s advertising/marketing plan was a lie, the consumer trusted the safety testing as reported, purchased the vehicle, and now they were dead. It could have been any one of them (and when one of them commented on this reality, most of them shook their heads in continued disgust). The damage award was large. The punitive award was larger. And it all seemed affected– or at least consistent with– feelings of disgust and distrust in our institutions.

So when Gallup came out with their recent poll on how Americans are losing confidence in all branches of government, we thought of our mock jurors.


In the past 25 years, confidence in our government has eroded pretty consistently with all three branches (the US Supreme Court, Congress, and the Presidency) taking hits as Americans express lower and lower levels of confidence. Currently, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans have confidence in Congress. Does that surprise us? Not really. We’ve been tracking the loss of confidence in public institutions in pretrial research projects over the last 10 years.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the important thing for defendants is to craft an identity for your client that sets your client corporation apart from the rest. Frame your particular client as different from, or changed from what they once were, and allow jurors to line up in support of corporate change. But you better have credible evidence to show them you really are different because at this point, the public assumes the worst unless you show them something better.



A Gideon Bible where it's often found, in a hotel nightstand.It’s no party for the sequestered juror. No morning paper. No TV. No internet cable or WiFi access in your room. No phone. They even take the Bible from your bedside table. While jury sequestration is often requested in high-profile trials, it is rare to actually have it happen. Jodi Arias asked for it and was refused. So did Conrad Murray. Casey Anthony’s jury was sequestered for 43 days—and rather than do an official change of venue, the jurors in her case were chosen in Clearwater, Florida and then shipped 100 miles to Orlando, Florida without access to cell phones or internet. Charles Manson’s jury was sequestered for 225 days. Manson’s jury held the record until the OJ Simpson jury was sequestered for 265 days.

Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson’s recent decision to sequester the Zimmerman jury means all 10 people [6 jurors and four alternates] will stay in a “hotel for the duration of the trial, which is expected to take two to four weeks”. While the Zimmerman trial is not expected to run longer than one month and the jury selection itself is expected to take at least as long as the trial, “it cost the state of Florida $350,000 to sequester the jury in the Casey Anthony trial for 43 days”.   Judge Nelson reversed her initial decision not to sequester the jurors after several jurors appeared to be trying to obtain seats on the jury for their own personal reasons.

A potential juror at the George Zimmerman trial who told the court he had little knowledge of the case apparently indicated otherwise on Facebook. I CAN tell you THIS. ‘Justice’…IS Coming, the juror appeared to write of the Zimmerman case on the Facebook page for the Coffee Party Progressives, a page with which he was confronted in Judge Debra Nelsons courtroom.”

Supporters of sequestration say that the isolation means you hear the evidence without media bias or community pressures. You focus on the evidence and make a decision based on what is admissible and not what is posted on social media sites or discussed in the ever-present media. Jurors who are sequestered bond and some say they can thus deliberate more collaboratively.

Critics (and they are many) say that sequestered jurors get “too chummy”. They begin to think so similarly that the goal of a group coming together with diverse opinions is completely lost to “group-think”. There is a very real possibility that jurors will be irritated by being cooped up for so long and stop paying attention, react against both parties, et cetera. And sometimes, they fall in love or various permutations on that theme.

Finally, it is often said (in hindsight) that jurors fail to deliberate thoughtfully following sequestration because they “just want to go home”. This “just want to go home” theory was often used to explain the “quick” Casey Anthony jury’s ‘not guilty’ verdict. Over the last 20 years I have interviewed thousands of jurors and mock jurors, and this is not my experience. Jurors invariably take their responsibility very seriously. Given the seriousness with which jurors approach their task, this idea simply is simply wrong, as I explained at the time on CNN’s Opinion page.

Still others question if it can even make sense anymore in our lives of constant media saturation to sequester juries. Attorneys still seem to think so. Three recent examples of why attorneys request sequestration are the Google mistrial rationale, the Nancy Grace mistrial rationale, and the Media meddling rationale.

Google mistrial rationale: “In an age when Google is a verb, and many rely on their phones to wake them up, schedule their lives, and pay their bills, is it still reasonable to expect juries to make decisions in a vacuum? Yet sequestration may be the only option. Judges have struggled to keep up with a growing number of outlets, and do not communicate about the case has become do not Tweet.”

Nancy Grace mistrial rationale: Nancy Grace’s constant pro-Prosecution coverage of the Casey Anthony trial resulted in the Conrad Murray Defense requesting sequestration at least while Nancy Grace was on the air. “Attorneys for Dr. Conrad Murray said the case should be sequestered to prevent the panel from being influenced by media reports. Specifically, the jury should be sequestered during the hours that television pundit Nancy Grace is on the air.”

Stop the media from meddling rationale: “Lawyers for accused serial killer James Whitey Bulger today threatened to ask to have his jury sequestered for the anticipated four-month duration of his blockbuster trial, arguing the Boston Globe is poisoning the pool in its fight to free two reporters from the defense witness list.”

The financial troubles in the court system coupled with the strains sequestration places on jurors  and complicated by the fears (and often reality) of public attacks on jurors rendering an unpopular opinion, will make juror sequestration a hot topic for years to come.

[If you still want to know more about this topic, you can see an April 2013 slide show on sequestration (with all the nitty gritty details) here.]


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Things You Should (Maybe) Know…

Monday, October 15, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

Sometimes stuff just comes up that we think you need to know but it isn’t enough to fill an entire blog post. This is one of those times. Think of it as things you didn’t know you needed to know until you knew it!


Why do we love it so? Well. M&Ms are not only in focus group facilities waiting to ensnare the frustrated trial attorney watching mock jurors behind darkened glass. They also apparently lurk in rat mazes to see why chocolate so appeals (to us and to those rat stand-ins for us). As it turns out, chocolate is like opium for rats.  And presumably, it’s a bit like opium for us as well. I, for one, would be quite willing to gorge myself on M&Ms for the good of science. So, we’re thinking maybe someone should do some research on what is really in Starbuck’s coffee!

Does your non-working nose mean you’re a psychopath?

We’ve written about psychopaths here before and they are a pretty scary bunch. But now we have a simple test for you to use at home to determine whether you are potentially a psychopath. How’s your sense of smell?

Psychopaths seem to have a very poor sense of smell. [Wow. I want to be in the court the first time a detective testifies that the suspect’s inability to smell was one of the tip-offs to their guilt!] Researchers think this is a good test to use since expectations of performance are unclear and the subject may be less able to fake good (or bad) responses. Of course, this research doesn’t mean just because you have a poor sense of smell that you are a psychopath. You could also have schizophrenia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. We thought that was reassuring. Oh– plus, seasonal allergies can also be a factor.

Annoying co-workers? There are actual benefits to this! Be thankful. 

While you may not have a Dwight Schrute in your office, you may have someone equally odd, annoying, or even deviant. New research focuses on the benefits you may gain from working with oddballs–even when they are very annoying. Specifically, in comparison to the deviant coworker–you can feel better about yourself. That’s always a good thing, e.g., “I’m an idiot, but at least I’m not that idiot!”.  Second, by observing other’s reactions to the deviant colleague, you can gain invaluable information as to unwritten workplace norms. If this doesn’t bring you a sense of gratitude for your own odd coworkers, you might try buying them lunch.

Think you’re better off up-front in that plane?

Whoa. Think again. ChartPorn has come to your rescue by publishing a visual of the safest seats on a commercial jet. To do this, they looked at a review of every commercial jet crash in the US since 1971 where there were both fatalities and survivors. That’s pretty thorough. And the verdict? Sit in the rear and arrive alive! Hmmm. You might also want to check the directional capabilities of your pilot.

It’s the economy! 

Along with the other bad news on the economy in the US for the past few years, here’s another feel-bad fact from our friends at the Atlantic. Income inequality is worse in the US today than it was in 1774. Yes. 1774. Not a typo. Although the Atlantic says this isn’t as demoralizing as it sounds–they are totally right as to how demoralizing it sounds. As they say, America is richer and better off today than we were 240 years ago. (That’s good news, right?) There are, however, sharper delineations between the have’s and have-nots (the 99%) today than there were then. It reminds us of another (and more uplifting) story we saw in the Atlantic recently. Sometimes, it seems like things are getting better.

Mehmet K. Mahmut, & Richard J. Stevenson (2012). Olfactory Abilities and Psychopathy: Higher Psychopathy Scores Are Associated with Poorer Odor Discrimination and Identification. Chemosensory Perception. DOI: 10.1007/s12078-012-9135-7


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