Archive for the ‘Voir Dire & Jury Selection’ Category
Just when you thought you could relax a little about jurors accessing the internet during a jury trial, we learn this factoid from the smart folks at Pew Research Center:
“64% of American adults now own a smart phone of some kind, up from 35% in the spring of 2011. Smartphone ownership is especially high among younger Americans, as well as those with relatively high income and education levels.”
Yes. Smartphone ownership has almost doubled in the past four years. While a smart phone is now more likely than not, for some Americans, the smart phone is almost the only way they can access the internet and that particular group is different from those with multiple access points in some important ways.
Here are some of the findings from the Pew survey of 2,002 adults in the United States completed between December 4th and 21st, 2014 by telephone:
10% of Americans who own a smart phone do not have any other form of high-speed internet access.
15% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are heavily dependent on a smart phone for online access.
13% of Americans who earn less than $30K a year are smart phone dependent for internet access. (As a comparison, only 1% of American households earning more than $75K per year rely on their smartphones for internet access.)
While 12% of African-Americans and 13% of Latinos are smart phone dependent for internet access, the same is true for only 4% of Whites.
Those who are smart phone dependent for internet access are also less likely to own another type of computing device, less likely to have a bank account, less likely to have health insurance, and more likely to rent or live with a friend or family member as opposed to owning their own home. Further, nearly half of those who are smart phone dependent have had to shut off their cell phone service for a period of time since the cost was prohibitive.
Among younger smart phone users, the smart phone is popular for avoiding boredom and to avoid interacting with others. They also use their phones more often than older users to watch videos, listen to podcasts, and get turn-by-turn directions to a desired location.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is one more reminder to remain vigilant about educating jurors on why smart phone research is a problem when deciding justice. On the other hand, this may also be a good question for determining financial stability and socio-economic status if you are unable to assess it otherwise.
“Do you have other means of internet access in your home besides your smart phone?”
The answer to that question could potentially give you insight into your potential juror’s life and their access to information that other questions cannot.
Pew Internet Research. 2015. US Smartphone use in 2015.
Recently we blogged about an emerging demographic subgroup: the lumbersexual. After reading the flurry of mainstream media articles about this group, here is how we described them:
“As far as we can tell, the lumbersexual is an urban male (typically White and heterosexual) who dresses like a lumberjack even though he is far from a lumberjack. While it is a recognizable fashion statement, there are (as yet) no attitudes, values and beliefs attributed to the lumbersexual. While there is a sense that these are men trying to look “like real men” according to a hyper masculine definition—there is no evidence that their attitudes, values and beliefs would line up with what we think of as stereotypically masculine.”
This was an emerging demographic subgroup observed in society fashion pages and written up in the mass media. We wondered if there would be research emerging to tell us more about the lumbersexual as a group. Are they conservative like the “real men” they emulate in dress or are they hipsters in search of a new look? We did not have to wonder long because, just like that, the academics weighed in with a refinement of the emerging stereotype.
You may notice that the male illustrating this post looks less like a nerd wearing lumberjack clothes and more like a male model with a colorful tattoo sleeve and an untrimmed beard. That is no mistake. The researchers we write about today see the beard and the tattoo (along with any existing piercings) as a way the male decorates himself to be more attractive to potential sexual partners. Yes, these researchers would be of the evolutionary psychology persuasion.
The researchers look at coloration and various “ornamentation” (think orange butts, big brightly colored noses, the beards of howler monkeys, and so on) and related sexual prowess in monkeys of various sorts and then apply their thoughts to human males who decorate themselves with beards and tattoos because, well, it just makes perfect sense to the evolutionary psychologist to make this (gigantic) cognitive leap.
They cite research showing that human males with beards, for example, receive higher ratings of aggressiveness, age and masculinity, but not attractiveness compared with non-bearded men. This means, say the researchers, that other men are cowed by the physical superiority of the bearded man and so they step back which leaves the bearded (and perhaps tattooed and pierced) man more access to the partner of their choice. They also attribute the same level of success to the bald man since baldness is a sign of increased testosterone and thus intimidates other men.
We actually wrote about how bald men cannot help but exude authority, confidence, power, and masculinity back in 2012. [If that sounds crazy, read the post!]
From a litigation advocacy perspective, these researchers would probably say that the bearded (and otherwise adorned male) human would be more of a leader than the non-bearded male human—their rationale would be that from physical observation the bearded male would be seen as more masculine and powerful. They would likely hold the same view of the man with the bald head (or shaved head).
We are not evolutionary psychologists and we beg to differ. Sometimes men with beards are leaders in the jury room and sometimes they are not. It isn’t so much about having or not having a beard or having or not having a full head of hair—it’s about life experiences, beliefs, attitudes and values (one of which may be presenting oneself as a more masculine man), and charisma. Overall, despite this research, we would encourage you to look for other indicators of leadership than the presence of a beard or a bald head (even when both are present in the same potential juror!) as you engage in voir dire and jury selection.
Grueter, C., Isler, K., & Dixson, B. (2015). Are badges of status adaptive in large complex primate groups? Evolution and Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.03.003
Today’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
Tiny 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.
Most 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