Archive for the ‘Internet & jurors’ Category
Yikes. Who would have imagined that social science researchers sometimes could occasionally disturb us. And other times make us laugh. And other times amuse us. But this time the reaction is hard to categorize as the researchers say their results may help explain everything from unrequited love to the uprisings of the Arab Spring! Ah, the researchers may need to have their grandiosity evaluated. Or–maybe not. Social science ‘string theory’, anyone?
It started when they wondered what would happen if there was a rule for which people perceived there was some ‘wiggle room’. So they examined reactions to a speed limit change.
“Participants read that lowering speed limits in cities would make people safer. Some read that government leaders had decided to reduce speed limits. Of those people, some were told that this legislation would definitely come into effect, and others read that it would probably happen, but that there was still a small chance government officials could vote it down.
People who thought the speed limit was definitely being lowered supported the change more than control subjects, but people who thought there was still a chance it wouldn’t happen supported it less than these control subjects. Laurin [the first author] says this confirms what she suspected about absoluteness; if a restriction is definite, people find a way to live with it.”
It’s an interesting hypothesis. [Thanks to second author Aaron Kay, you can find the full pdf of this article here.]
Consider the impact of rules on sworn jurors. We have been watching and weighing in on issues on jurors and the internet for a number of years now. Suggestions are often made for how to curtail the issues of the Google mistrial. But they are just that, suggestions. This research advises that we need to be more extreme and absolute and unequivocal in demanding that jurors do no research on the internet about the cases they for which they sit in judgment. “It’s not a good idea– It’s the law”. And, of course, as always, it’s critically important to explain the ‘why’.
And one more thing! This isn’t just about explaining Arab Spring or the Google mistrial. It’s also about unrequited love. Back to the press alert:
And how does this relate to unrequited love? It confirms people’s intuitive sense that leading someone [on] can just make them fall for you more deeply, Laurin says. “If this person is telling me no, but I perceive that as not totally absolute, if I still think I have a shot, that’s just going to strengthen my desire and my feeling, that’s going to make me think I need to fight to win the person over,” she says. “If instead I believe no, I definitely don’t have a shot with this person, then I might rationalize it and decide that I don’t like them that much anyway.”
As people who have also provided a lot of counseling to the heartbroken (in an earlier phase of professional life) we would suggest that it may be up to the person feeling unrequited to walk away even if the door in your face seemed equivocal. Aren’t we talking about love? Ah, but I digress… and yet the lesson is apparent. If you are not interested, be perfectly clear. Crystal clear.
Ultimately, the research appears to affirm a maxim of life that bears reminding; we tend to hear and see what we want, unless it is inescapably clear that only one thing is being said. Whether we like it or not. Or as Paul Simon put it “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Laurin, K., Kay, A., & Fitzsimons, G. (2011). Reactance versus Rationalization: Divergent Responses to Policies that Constrain Freedom. Psychological Science.
Paul Simon lyrics from “The Boxer”
Even though we have been hearing about (and writing about) jurors and the internet for a several years now—it was still something of a shock to see the ABA piece identifying 90 verdicts challenged due to jurors’ alleged internet misconduct. We wrote an article on Jurors and the Internet in The Jury Expert back in November of 2009. (And if you haven’t seen the updated version from August, 2010—here it is.) Readers cannot get enough of these articles—and it appears jurors can’t get enough of the internet! Ninety verdict challenges is a lot of activity.
But jurors and the internet are not the only behavior causing mistrials. There’s a very odd story out of the UK about an attorney in the courtroom gallery making faces and rolling his eyes at the jury. The jury was so unsettled by this, they sent a note to the judge:
“We find him very distracting and he is making strange faces all the time. We feel very uncomfortable with him.”
The case ended up in mistrial as it turned out the face-making attorney had unsuccessfully prosecuted the female defendant earlier and she said she was disconcerted by him as well.
Strange things can happen in the courtroom as well as in the jury room. We’ve written before about the importance of teaching the jury how to [and how not to] deliberate. New research would say it’s also important to teach juries how to pick their presiding juror. We know the presiding juror is important, in terms of preventing a hung jury. But, the way a presiding juror is selected may also have impact on the deliberation process.
Eckel, Fatas & Wilson (2010) looked at how leaders are chosen and how that selection process relates to group functioning. They had group members participate in a task where everyone saw each other’s scores. Then they assigned group leaders defining a ‘high status’ leader as someone with a high score and a ‘low status leader’ as someone with a low score. What they found was that when leaders were seen as high-status—group members invested more and participated in the task at hand. When group leaders are seen as low-status—group members de-invest and do not participate.
The implications for what you need to communicate to jurors about how to select a presiding juror are clear:
Talk to jurors about the importance of the presiding juror role.
This defines the presiding juror role as ‘high status’.
Talk to jurors about what makes an effective presiding juror.
This helps them see/determine who would be the best choice.
And perhaps teach them how to deliberate so they can have the best chance at working together effectively.
Keep in mind that this is a strange new role for them, and some practical guidance presented in the right tone could be appreciated.
CATHERINE C. ECKEL, ENRIQUE FATAS, & RICK WILSON (2010). Cooperation and Status in Organizations. Journal of Public Economic Theory, 12 (4)
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I was flattered to be invited to address the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference last week, on the topic of “Social Networking and Other Evils of the Internet in Jury Trials.”. I joined US District Judge Donald Molloy (Montana), Andrea Henson-Armstrong (Federal Judicial Center in DC) and Tom Waterman (Lane & Waterman, PC, Davenport, IA) in our discussion of the issues, including the ways that jury instructions are being revised and why some jurors appear to refuse to abide by the admonitions of the court. I also provided an updated and expanded version of the 2009 KTC paper on this subject, which includes current case law and proposed versions of jury instructions. You are welcome to a copy of the paper here.
Judges like to be listened to and obeyed. No surprise there. Part of my hope is that through the panel presentation, the judges were able to understand how society has changed over the last couple of decades, and how technology has become so second-nature to American citizens that many juror rule infractions are unconscious, while most others are well-intended, even if uninformed. If the goal is to achieve higher compliance among jurors, we will need to do a better job in readying them for their duties.
There are two main categories of violators of judicial admonitions regarding use of technology among jurors.
• The Innocent and Oblivious. Most who don’t follow the court admonitions don’t realize they are breaking the law. After spending the evening surfing the internet, they would tell the judge “I didn’t do research! I haven’t been to the library in years!”
This group needs to be clearly and fundamentally informed of the myriad ways we do research, including “just looking stuff up on the internet”. Use common language. Use personal examples. Explain why it is important, and don’t stop with the issuance of behavioral demands. Judicial edicts will not help this group obey the rules.
• The Angry and Defiant. This second group is more problematic. They include the subset of Americans who are angry and mistrustful of all branches of government, especially Federal. The judiciary is not immune from their anger, and there is a great deal of suspicion about the validity of the court’s authority, and the rules by which the court plays. “I hear what you are saying, but I will decide for myself what justice requires!”
To solve the challenge of this group, the court has to conduct, or otherwise allow, meaningful voir dire. Asking rhetorical questions about whether they will “follow the law as given to them” is not useful, and for the Angry/Defiant jurors it is an example of the problem, not the solution. If these people can’t feel that following the rules is an extension of their values and their beliefs, they can’t be counted on to abide by the rules or respect the judicial process. Send them home.
Also discussed during the panel discussion were problems with discoverability due to electronic open records, and the challenges associated with the fact that some jurors look up court documents, and some do searches on potential witnesses, parties, attorneys, and judges. Reference was also made to a chilling article recently published in the New York Times, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.”
The program was, in many ways, cautionary. We all spoke as advocates and defenders of jury trials, and out of the conviction that it is not necessary for Web 2.0 to be another nail in the coffin of citizen participation in justice. The word needs to get out that the jury system is not anachronistic, but some of our traditions (edicts instead of explanations) and assumptions (judges are obeyed) clearly need to be revisited. If the federal judiciary is listening (and they were!), there is hope.
Two recent legal events (an arrest and the overturning of a conviction) have resulted in a lot of commentary by aggravated citizens. Those who have served on juries tend to have more positive things to say about jury service than those who have never served—but the reality is there is much in the media to tick potential jurors off. And of course, the vast volume of sound verdicts by jurors are simply not as much fun for the press to cover, so… Recently, two decisions have struck chords with jurors and resulted in them expressing a perspective that something is seriously wrong with our criminal justice system.
The Warren Jeffs retrial
Warren Jeffs (known as the “prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—aka FLDS) was convicted in September, 2007 of coercing a 14 year old girl into marrying her 19 year old cousin. Jeffs was charged with two counts in being an accomplice in the rape of a teenage girl. Many doubted Jeffs could be convicted in Utah. But convicted he was. Now,as of July 28, 2010, Jeffs’ conviction has been overturned by the Utah Supreme Court on a technicality. In less than a week, there are more than 1600 comments about the ruling. Most of them are from ticked off citizens who think this should never have happened. Stories like this one, regardless of their legal merit, enrage the public.
The Grim Sleeper arrest
On July 7, 2010, Los Angeles Police arrested a man they believe to be a serial killer dubbed the ‘Grim Sleeper’. They charged Lonnie Franklin, Jr. with at least 11 murders between 1985 and 2007. That first day, it was reported that:
“Franklin’s arrest was the first successful use of a DNA investigative tool known as “familial” searching in California. Familial searching, approved by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown at the urging of Cooley and other prosecutors, allows investigators to pursue partial genetic matches to crime scene evidence when the suspect’s DNA profile is not in the state database.”
Later on July 7, 2010, an article was published detailing how LAPD had followed the DNA trail to the alleged perpetrator. And the next day (July 8, 2010) questions began to arise about whether it was fair to use family DNA to catch a killer. Before another week went by, the debate had been framed as either a tool to protect communities or an invasion of privacy smacking of racial profiling. And comments show people are unhappy on either side of the debate. Those who think it makes sense to allow ‘familial searching’ point to the reality that it may be the only way to catch dangerous criminals. Those who think it goes too far say relatives who are innocent can be dragged into situations over which they have no control and no involvement.
The lesson for us in this is to make sure and explain ‘why’ the rules are important. Explain ‘why’ they can’t use the internet to research the case, and explain how reliable (or not) forensic evidence is. To be optimally persuasive, you have to educate, inform, and bring jurors along with you in the story. It won’t keep things from happening that may rub jurors the wrong way. But it gives them a framework to understand “why” and while that framework may not help them feel good about their decision, it comforts them in their distress.