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stewart_ebola-1280x900Earlier this month I was on a Wi-Fi and Cable TV enabled flight. Passengers thought it very funny that two of the shows accessible on the cable TV channels were on plane crashes and jetliner engine failures. Well, some of the passengers thought it was funny. I was fortunate enough to be in the window seat while an over-sized traveler was in the middle seat and a man with a horrific and very productive cough (thank you very much!) was in the aisle seat. He hacked and hacked and hacked during our 6 hour flight and at one point, I looked at the middle seat passenger and whispered “ebola”. It was intended to be a joke but she began to sweat profusely and lean into me. It was not a good flight and from now on I will not crack jokes about potentially deadly things.

So today, I saw the headlines on CNN: Ebola hysteria. And then I checked my email to find an update from Rasmussen Reports saying Americans are not panicking over ebola. While I certainly prefer the Rasmussen Reports perspective, it does give a moment of question often voiced by our mock jurors: when you have dueling experts–how do you know who to believe?

We’ve answered this question before, but here are a few ideas on how to make your witness be the voice of authority in the jury room:

Establish the expert’s credentials, then let it go. If the expert is so insecure that they insist on acting intellectually superior, the jury will hate them. And as ridiculous as it might sound, during preparation emphasize to the witness the need to be nice.  Expert witnesses are the worst when it comes to arrogance and gamesmanship.  Getting them to be friendly, useful, and charmingly geeky is often quite a challenge.

Your expert witness is not there to tell what they know. Their job is to teach the material to a (usually) ignorant but motivated class of students. Not to teach the attorneys or the judge, but to teach the good folks in the jury box.

Give the jurors the dueling testimony but also let them know why what you are offering is more supported by the literature, has stronger support from professionals in the field, or other pieces of data that bolster your expert’s testimony.

Frame the testimony in a way that mitigates the values or belief conflicts that the skeptical jurors are likely to have.  We know that (as with political polarization) jurors are going to ‘hear’ what supports their own belief systems, giving jurors for whom your message is pro-attitudinal the ammunition to support your position in the deliberation room is essential.

Make sure your expert’s testimony is factually accurate and examine the opposing witness’ testimony for factual accuracy. Showing jurors how a portion of an expert’s testimony is self-serving will kick in their tendency to doubt the expert’s credibility in total.

These are but a few strategies to help jurors to choose your expert as the one they believe or find most credible. You can find more on the blog by simply clicking here: dueling experts.

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Changing American Attitudes: Gay/Lesbian Issues

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

FL21 Lesbian pride FlagRecently, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed AB2501 banning the “gay panic” defense in California. The story in the Visalia Times-Delta says, Californians cannot claim in court that they were

“acting from panic or passion when they killed someone who they either knew or found out was gay or transgender.  Now they will face the full charges for their crime, just as if they had killed a heterosexual person.  No more “momentary insanity” claims because someone of the same gender (or transgender) made a pass (or you thought they made a pass) at you”.

And it isn’t just California. Attitudes toward gay/lesbian people are changing across America. We see those shifts in surveys by secular polling groups routinely. But when we see them in surveys hosted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), we need to take notice. In June of 2014, PRRI posted a fact sheet on gay and lesbian issues based on recent survey results. In brief, here is what they had to say:

Same-sex marriage:

A majority of Americans favor legal same-sex marriage (53%) while just 41% oppose.

Democrats support legal same-sex marriage (64%) as do Independents (57%), but only a minority of Republicans have support for legal same-sex marriage (34%).

Young adults (aged 18 to 29) support legal same-sex marriage (69%) while senior citizens mostly do not (56% oppose).

Same-sex marriage and religion:

51% of Americans say same-sex marriage is against their religious beliefs, but 45% disagree.

Americans tend to perceive three religious groups as unfriendly toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people: the Catholic Church (58%), the Mormon Church (53%), and evangelical Christian Churches (51%).

Discrimination against LGBT people in American society and workplace protections:

More than 2/3 of Americans (68%) think gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination in the US.

72% favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from job discrimination. 23% oppose these laws. 75% of Americans think Congress should pass laws to protect transgender people from job discrimination, while 21% disagree.

Morality-Acceptance Gap on Gay and Lesbian Relationships:

51% of Americans say (despite the majority support for same-sex marriage) that sex between adults of the same gender is morally wrong.

Parenting and Adoption by Gay and Lesbian Couples:

58% of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian people to adopt children, and 37% are  opposed.

Nature vs. Nurture Debate About Sexual Orientation:

44% of Americans think being gay and/or lesbian is “something a person is born with” while 36% think it is “due to factors such as upbringing or environment”. 12% think it is some combination of the two (i.e., nature + nurture).

There is more in this fact sheet that we have not covered here. You can find information on the breakdown of attitudes by religious affiliation, attitudes about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Federalism, a breakdown of attitudes by political affiliation, and attitudes on ordination of gay and lesbian people. Overall, it’s a good primer on where attitudes are now in the United States about wide-ranging issues related to gay lesbian people.

Fact Sheet: Gay and Lesbian Issues. 2013. Public Religion Research Institute.

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morality in everyday life

The researchers recruited a sample of 1,252 adults ranging in age from 18 to 68 years of age who reside in the US and Canada. Each participant completed measures of religiosity and political ideation prior to participation in the actual study. All participants had smartphones and were randomly signaled on their phone for 3 days between 9am and 9pm. “At each signal, participants indicated whether they committed, were the target of, witnessed, or learned about a moral or immoral act within the past hour”.

The participants wrote a text back to the researcher describing the event, where it happened, and completed a scale describing their emotional experience. In total, participants sent in 13,240 text message “reports”.

On close to a third of the text message reports (28.9%), they reported either a moral (15.3%) or an immoral (13.6%) event.

They were more likely to report either committing or being the target of a moral act and more likely to learn about an immoral act. The researchers say the participants were more likely to learn about an immoral act via personal communications–also known as gossiping.

Political ideology was associated with moral content with liberals mentioning events related to fairness/unfairness, liberty/oppression, and honesty/dishonesty, while conservatives were more likely to mention events related to loyalty/disloyalty, sanctity/degradation, and authority/subversion.

There was no real difference in the frequency of positive moral experience by religiosity. Religious people did not commit moral acts more frequently than nonreligious people but they did report fewer immoral experiences (the researchers think this might be a reporting issue rather than one of the religious actually having fewer immoral experiences). Religious people experienced more “intense self-conscious emotions such as guilt, embarrassment, and disgust in response to the immoral deeds they had committed, and more pride and gratefulness in response to moral deeds”.

For all participants, moral acts were associated with higher happiness levels than immoral acts. Benefitting from the good (moral) acts of others resulted in the highest levels of happiness while doing good (moral) acts for others resulted in the highest sense of purpose.

Finally, when participants did a good (moral) act earlier in the day, they were more likely to commit a bad (immoral) act later in the day and less likely to do another good (moral) act.

In other words, we are inveterate gossips. We see the world through our particular political ideology’s lens. Religious people commit the same number of immoral acts as the nonreligious but they feel worse about those acts. Conversely, when behaving well, the religious feel better. We all feel better when we do good and worse when we do bad.  Having someone else do something nice for us makes us happiest but doing something for others gives us the highest sense of purpose. And, finally, if we do something nice at the start of the day, we seem to believe we have a license to act in any way we so choose for the rest of the day.

From the perspective of litigation advocacy–there are some important lessons buried in this very short (4 pages!) article.

We like salaciousness and are likely to pay close attention to it. Where morally questionable behavior might be perceived, it will be. If it concerns you, make sure  you address it– someone on the jury is likely to be guessing something improper occurred. 

Give jurors a choice to do the right thing. They want a constructive motive, not just to punish. That’s what we find our jurors want to do in every case and this research says it will make them feel good and give them a sense of purpose!

We all see the world through our own particular lens–crafted of our attitudes, beliefs, values and political ideology. Make sure to tell your story in a way that focuses on universal values rather than merely pressing hot buttons.

In other words, give jurors something to vote for, not against.

Hofmann W, Wisneski DC, Brandt MJ, & Skitka LJ (2014). Morality in everyday life. Science (New York, N.Y.), 345 (6202), 1340-3 PMID: 25214626

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Libertarian orientation scaleAfter years of not having a way to measure those who consistently respond in a Libertarian direction, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has offered us a new scale to do just that. We posted on Monday about their survey of Libertarians and this is the measure they used to determine who was really Libertarian, who tended to lean Libertarian, who was not Libertarian, and who was a mixture of Libertarian and non-Libertarian attitudes. It’s an intriguing scale. But first, some terminology is in order.

Libertarians are–in some cases rugged–individualists and thus notoriously (and probably proudly) difficult for researchers to pigeon-hole or label. A 1984 publication defined libertarianism as composed of two dimensions: personal freedom and government intervention. Since 1984, these current authors say, the “issue agenda has evolved” and they therefore used 9 separate questions to examine three dimensions of present-day Libertarianism: national security and international intervention, economic policy, and personal liberty issues.

Second, they define non-Libertarians as “Communalists”. Why? Because their responses were the opposite of the Libertarian responses on this scale. Libertarians score low in their desire for government intervention at the cost of personal liberties–while Communalists preferred (i.e., scored higher on desire for) government intervention even when it cost some personal liberties.

As you can see in the graphic illustrating this post, 54% of Americans have Mixed Libertarian and Communal attitudes/beliefs. Those who respond consistently Libertarian or Communalist each make up 7% of the population, while 15% lean Libertarian and 17% lean Communalist.

So. With those definitions in mind, the researchers asked the respondents if they would identify with the label “Libertarian”. Thirteen percent did (but their response pattern was less consistent ideologically than those who were identified by the Libertarian Orientation Scale as either Libertarian or Libertarian leaning). Without further ado, here are the questions (from page 7 in the full report) the researchers used to identify the Libertarians in their sample.

Libertarian Orientation Scale items

Each question was placed on a 7-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 to 7) with a low score representing the Libertarian position and a high score representing the Communal position. Thus, the most Libertarian score would be a 9 and the most Communal score a 63 for the total scale. Scores in this sample ranged from 12 to 63. Scores from 9-25 were classified as Libertarians, scores of 26-31 were classified as Libertarian Leaning, scores from 32-42 were classified as Mixed, scores from 43-48 were classified as having Communalist Leanings, and those with scores from 49-63 were classified as Communalists.

The remainder of the PRRI report looks closely at the difference between the groups (i.e., Libertarian, Lean Libertarian, Communalist, Lean Communalist, Mixed) as defined by this measure. It is interesting and easy reading, as well as a nice way to modify your beliefs (aka stereotypes) about this group. While these are not likely questions you can use in voir dire to classify potential jurors based on these categories, it is a clear look at the issues that may be particularly important to those with either Libertarian or Communalist leanings.

Libertarians, like the rest of us, have changed over the years. Thanks to PRRI for bringing our awareness up to date.

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ISO LibertariansBack in 2010 we blogged on a survey of more than 150,000 Libertarians. We now have an update on Libertarians in America courtesy of the Public Religion Research Institute! Unlike the original survey, this one was based on a random sample of 2,317 American adults (from people who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel). Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between September 21, 2013 and October 3, 2013. The results offer multiple tidbits potentially useful in voir dire (or simply for expanding your knowledge of Libertarians in America). The full text of their study is accessible online, but here are a few of the findings we found interesting.

Only 7% of Americans are consistent Libertarians although an additional 15% lean Libertarian.

Libertarians are nearly all non-Hispanic Whites (94%), male (68%), and under age 50 (62%).

Political affiliation skews more Republican (45%) than Democratic (5%) although (as we’ve pointed out in other posts on how the country is changing) half (50%) say they are either unaffiliated, politically independent, or belong to a third party.

Tea Partiers? A substantial portion are, but not entirely. 39% of Libertarians identify as part of the Tea Party movement but 61% do not. Libertarians are about 26% of the Tea Party movement while the majority of Tea Partiers (52%) describe themselves as part of the religious right and 35% say they are white evangelical Protestants.

Libertarians are more likely to pay attention to what is going on in government or politics than the average American. Only 38% of Americans say they pay attention to politics and government “most of the time or always”. Among Libertarians, the majority (56%) endorse this response option.

Libertarians are more strongly opposed than most to raising the minimum wage, Obamacare, and increasing environmental protections (all issues reflecting government involvement in economic policy).

The libertarian profile on social issues diverges from their conservative economic outlook: 57% of Libertarians support abortion rights, 70% support MD-assisted euthanasia, and 71% favor legalizing marijuana. Oddly, considering these liberal views on social issues–a majority of libertarians (59%) oppose same-sex marriage.

Libertarians have more positive feelings toward atheists (46%) than either Tea Party members (33%) or white evangelical Protestants (25%). They are also more positively disposed toward gay and lesbian peoples (49%) than are members of the Tea Party (44%) or white evangelical Protestants (38%).

Nearly 2/3 of Americans (65%) support making pornography more difficult to access on the internet. However, among Libertarians, only 31% favor making pornography more difficult to access while 68% oppose this movement.

This study offers a close-up view of those Americans who consistently respond to questions in a pattern the authors identify as Libertarian. Their responses, according to this report, are much more consistent than those who call themselves Libertarians but are not really identifiable as such based on their responses to a scale measuring political orientation. (We will write about this scale, the Libertarian Orientation Scale, in our next post.)

It isn’t at all clear whether there is a consistent notion of “I am Libertarian”, and whether those jurors and mock jurors we follow carefully are comparable to those in this study. Stay tuned to a post we have scheduled for Wednesday of this week, and we will let you know how to determine whether a person fits the definition of Libertarian used by researchers. And we will continue to observe and track the reactions of our mock jurors who say they are Libertarian and see how their responses relate to their eventual verdict.

Jones, RP Cox, D Navarro-Rivera, J 2013 The 2013 American Values Survey: In Search of Libertarians in America. Public Religion Research Institute.

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