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trustworthy-or-notIf you try to identify what it is that makes someone trustworthy, you might list their forthrightness, values consistent with your own, or even their willingness to embrace unpopular positions. And that is all well and good but it likely is untrue. Instead, researchers tell us, we draw “relatively stable trustworthinesss impressions from facial appearance”.

Apparently, based on the photo illustrating this post (taken from the research article) we define trust as having less prominent eyebrows and jawlines, softer lips and slightly narrower noses. Overall, a softer appearance. The more “trustworthy” photos in the left column look younger, with less prominent brows and generally more traditionally feminine than the “untrustworthy” photos in the right column. But this is merely how they strike us— we should point out the researchers described the more trustworthy faces as neutral, neither masculine nor feminine.

In this research, participants were asked to imagine they were moving to a new area and had asked real estate brokers to find a home for them. To add to the realism of the task, the participant’s only clues as to the skill of the realtor were these photos and typed statements ostensibly made by each realtor in describing the home they had identified for the participants (sensible factors for how we ourselves would choose a realtor for a cross-country move). After seeing the photos and statements, the participants were asked to respond to how willing they would be to pick the house this realtor recommended and then how trustworthy the realtor seemed to them.

Across four different experiments (and more than 400 undergraduate student-participants), the researchers found that participants spontaneously presumed trustworthinesss from facial appearance alone.

While we have blogged on this idea before, it has been in the context of not trusting men with wide faces (which is simply based on higher testosterone levels). This research is not from evolutionary psychologists but we can see the “untrustworthy” faces in the right column of the graphic illustrating this post are clearly wider. While today’s researchers say facial trustworthiness may have “pervasive consequences in everyday life” we would say you always want to assess if a witness or party would look more trustworthy with a few appearance tweaks.

We already pay attention to attire and accessories but we’ve also written about things like covering tattoos or even something as seemingly unnecessary as telling a witness to not place their fist in their mouth when testifying. And speaking of those “pervasive consequences in everyday life”, recent studies have shown us that men with wide faces are more likely to receive the death sentence (even when the conviction is later found to be wrongful).

While it may seem ridiculous to consider shaping a witness or party’s eyebrows or considering makeup techniques or glasses to make deep-set eyes appear more wide-set—it is also ridiculous to infer trustworthiness based on appearance alone. But we do it all the time. Just add this as “one more thing” to consider in preparing your witness or party for the courtroom.

Klapper, A., Dotsch, R., van Rooij, I., & Wigboldus, D. (2016). Do we spontaneously form stable trustworthiness impressions from facial appearance? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111 (5), 655-664 DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000062

Image taken from the article itself (the researchers used software to morph the faces)

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atheist-update-2016We’ve written about atheists here (and how unpopular they are in North America) a number of times. The first time was in 2010 when we wrote an article in The Jury Expert because we were so taken aback by the level of vitriol we’d seen in a blog post describing a new research article on atheists. We found the level of vitriol reserved for atheists hard to believe but, when we went to the literature, it was a consistent theme for decades.

It is hard to believe six years has passed since we wrote that article, but the authors of the original research article have published an update ten years later. Despite some religious groups improving their images in the eyes of the public in the last decade, the level of dislike for atheists has remained (although they are now statistically tied with Muslims) as “most disliked”.

In their ten-year update (drawing from the 2014 version of the nationally representative survey they used for the first article in 2003) the researchers tell us about how attitudes have not changed toward atheists and that the negativity toward atheists also colors perceptions of those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. Here are a few quotes pulled from the new article that illustrate some of their findings.

While Muslims have surpassed atheists as the least-accepted group, Muslims and atheists still receive the most negative evaluations compared to all other groups in 2014, as they did in 2003.

…moral concerns about atheists are, in fact, relatively common in American society; for example, over a third of Americans (36 percent) either somewhat agree or strongly agree that atheists “lack a moral center”.

…it seems that the term “atheist” denotes a cultural category that signifies a general and diffuse sense of moral threat.

…public distrust of atheists is primarily motivated by cultural values, and private distrust of atheists is motivated by cultural values and private religious beliefs, but both effects are substantially mediated by respondents’ moral concerns about atheists.

Moral concerns about atheists have consequences for how Americans perceive the overall decline of religious affiliation. Overall, the spiritual but not religious (SBNRs) are more favorably perceived than are atheists; beliefs that atheists are immoral increase negative sentiment toward SBNRs.

Our analyses show that anti-atheist sentiment in the United States is persistent, durable, and anchored in moral concern. A substantial percentage of Americans see atheists as immoral, and are therefore significantly more likely to say that atheists do not share their vision of America and to disapprove of their son or daughter marrying an atheist.

Overall, atheists are still seen as “other” and devalued for having fewer morals than those with religious beliefs which may be weak but are not a complete repudiation of religiosity. The FBI has just released a report that hate crimes against Muslims are up by 67% in 2015 so (given that this survey was completed in 2014) Muslims are probably even more unpopular now.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it behooves us to pay special attention to atheists and Muslims involved (even as non-party witnesses) in jury trials. In the effort to overcome “otherness” regarding atheism, there are testimony topics that might be helpful. Atheists are thought of in terms of what they don’t believe, leaving open the question of what they do believe. Of course the answer to that is as diverse as the population, but it is a potentially positive association, rather than a negative one. Also, given the recent presidential elections and the aftermath protests and demonstrations, we would do well to pay special attention to bias against any party to litigation who is not White, and possibly also not male.

Only time will tell if the slightly more than ⅓ of the US electorate that elected Donald Trump will be emboldened in the deliberation room to actively and openly express discrimination toward parties of color. In the meantime, prepare witnesses and clients to espouse universal values and be vigilant to hidden (and not so hidden) biases whether anticipated or complete surprises.

Edgell, P., Hartmann, D., Stewart, E., & Gerteis, J. (2016). Atheists and Other Cultural Outsiders: Moral Boundaries and the Non-Religious in the United States. Social Forces, 95 (2), 607-638 DOI: 10.1093/sf/sow063

Image taken from article itself

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murder-method-by-genderWhile it may be 2016, there are still some judges who view women and men differently even when they commit the same offense. When it comes to killing your spouse—apparently, the difference lies in the gender of the defendant.

Australian researchers looked at the sentencing remarks from nine different judges from trials involving men killing their spouses, and they looked at five trials with women killing their spouses. Sentencing remarks are those statements made by the judge to explain sentences assigned to the defendants who had been convicted of murdering their spouse. The researchers do not identify the gender of the judges but as our fellow bloggers over at BPS Research Digest comment—“the accounts include plenty of references to “His Honor” but none to “Her Honor”.

Ultimately, with male defendants, judges often talked about the man’s character and testimony from employers or community members. They emphasized the man’s suffering and emotional state, and referred to (in those cases where relevant) the anguish, distress, and depression the man suffered when his spouse left him. In one case, the judge blamed the spouse-victim for the conflict (as in, “she started it”)—while the male defendant ended the conflict permanently and violently.

Conversely, with female defendants, judges focused on negative references to the woman’s character (such as being indebted and unable to meet expenses, or being uncaring as to the effect of her actions on her children). Such character concerns were not raised when the defendant was male. Further, some judges described the victim-husband as being a “good provider” or being “honest and hard-working”. In 3 of the 5 cases with a female defendant, the sentencing judge used the word “wickedness” (e.g., “your wickedness knew no bounds”; it is hard to think of a more callous, heartless, wicked person”; “you chose a horrendous method indeed to carry out this wicked crime”).

The researchers comment that these judges see “good men” who kill because of their (now dead) spouses being conflict-initiators (provocateurs) while women who kill their spouses are “wickedly calculating” and sentencing should send a message to prevent other women from getting the same idea. In other words, these things happen when it comes to good men murdering their difficult wives (who likely brought their demise upon themselves). However, when the defendant is female, it is unthinkably wicked, and the sentencing must be harsh to keep other women from getting the same idea.

The authors conclude with this comment, “Females received substantially longer sentences in these cases than their male counterparts. This study also demonstrated that judges expressed more exculpatory remarks for the male offenders while making damning, indeed vilifying statements about the female offenders.”

Obviously, this is an anecdotal study with a small sample size, and no statistical conclusions can be drawn from it. With that said, from a litigation advocacy perspective, it is clear (especially if you are in Australia) that we need continued focus on gender issues in sentencing and on how bias (whether we are attorney, party, defendant, juror or judge) creeps into our thoughts about the crime committed and the gender of the defendant.

Hall, G., Whittle, M., & Field, C. (2015). Themes in Judges’ Sentencing Remarks for Male and Female Domestic Murderers. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 23 (3), 395-412 DOI: 10.1080/13218719.2015.1080142

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pew-researchWe like Pew Research here and wanted to bring you two new articles they’ve recently posted that may have relevance for knowing your jurors. It’s been a while since we’ve heard the term “boomerang generation” in regard to Millennials and maybe it’s because they are not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. Yet, if you look at the definition of “boomerang generation” now, it isn’t about moving out and moving back and moving out and moving back again, it’s about staying in place. And Pew has a new article addressing the issue.

Multigenerational households: 2016 

According to Pew Research, we now have a “record 60.6 million Americans living in multigenerational households”. That translates to 1 out of every 5 Americans living in a multigenerational household (defined as two or more adult generations or a home that includes grandparents and grandchildren). Further, the trend is growing among nearly all racial groups (whites are less likely to live multigenerationally) as well as Hispanics in the US, among all age groups, multigenerationaland across genders.

While older adults used to be the ones most commonly living in multigenerational households, now it is young people for whom this living arrangement is most common. It is becoming more common for not just two adult generations to live together but even common for three generational groups. Pew thinks this is the result of immigrant families increasing in the country and a more frequent tendency in those cultures to share households. It is interesting to examine the graph (taken from the Pew site). The number has increased but not sharply. It is a gentle upward trend reflecting the changing demographic of America. As the nation  changes, so do our housing norms.

Religious affiliations of “none”: 2016

Between 2007 (16% of those surveyed) and 2013 (23% of those surveyed), Pew Research says the number of religiously unaffiliated (aka the “nones”) grew rapidly from 35.6 million Americans to 55.8 million Americans saying they had no religious affiliation. Recently, Pew interviewed religious “nones” to see why they had left the church. Their reasons vary widely and as Pew says, the “nones” are far from monolithic. Here is the largest reason those who were raised in the church say they ended up leaving as adults:

religious-nonesAbout half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God.

The others may have objections to organized religion, be religiously unsure, or simply inactive due to other obligations. Pew describes the “nones’ as composed of three groups:

They can be broken down into three broad subgroups: self-identified atheists, those who call themselves agnostic and people who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these findings are important. We need to realize both living arrangements and religious affiliations are changing. Some of this reflects the changing racial and ethnic makeup of the country and some of it reflects changing values and beliefs in our society. Sometimes these changes catch us off guard and other times we just think what we knew “back then” still applies today. Pay attention. Don’t be surprised when your assumptions (based on outdated information) are just wrong.

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icky-sickWe’ve written about American attitudes toward interracial marriage a fair amount here and (at least once) questioned poll results suggesting dramatic improvement in attitudes toward  interracial marriage among Americans (an 87% approval rating?!). While interracial relationships may be more acceptable to many more Americans, there is also the recent report of an attack on an interracial couple in Washington State. Additional reports about the self-proclaimed white supremacist who stabbed the interracial couple without provocation said if he was released by the police he would attend the Trump rally and “stomp out more of the Black Lives Matter group”.)

Recently, we found an article that reflects some of what we think about the state of race relations and attitudes toward interracial marriages. And, as if in response to the event linked to above (which had not yet happened at the time the article was published), here is how the authors close their paper (after reporting that interracial couples were dehumanized relative to same race couples):

“These findings are meaningful given the negative consequences associated with dehumanization, most notably, antisocial behaviors such as aggression and perpetration of violence”.

The researchers say that they skeptically question the increased approval poll numbers when it comes to comfort with interracial marriage. They also express a general belief that if the poll questions used subtler measures about racial attitudes (rather than asking explicitly how approving the respondent was of interracial marriage)—the results would reflect significantly lower levels of approval for interracial marriage.

They refer to, as an example of attitudes toward interracial marriage, a 2013 Washington Post column by Richard Cohen saying that the interracial family of New York mayor Bill de Blasio must result in a “gag reflex” among conservatives.

The researchers conducted three separate studies (all with undergraduate student participants). We mention the participant pool for two reasons—one, because undergraduate students are perhaps a bit different from jury-eligible citizens, and two, because the Millennial generation is seen as most accepting of interracial marriages (according to Pew Research, Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll, and CNN) although PBS, Politico and the Washington Post question whether that really means Millennials are overall more racially tolerant. It would seem to us that, if Millennials show evidence of implicit bias against interracial marriage, older generations would likely show even more.

And sure enough, Millennials (the undergraduate participants) did show bias against interracial couples. The implicit measures showed reactions of disgust as well as a tendency to dehumanize the interracial couples compared to same race couples.

The researchers hypothesize there is still a tremendous amount of emotional and under-the-surface bias (aka implicit bias) against interracial couples and, they say, emotional bias (aka disgust) is more predictive of discriminatory behavior than are racially based stereotypes.

The researchers also describe what happens when we dehumanize others—as the participants in these experiments dehumanized the interracial couples. We do fewer nice things and increase our “antisocial behavior” toward dehumanized others. There is less empathy, and more avoidant behavior. We are less likely to help and more likely to use aggression and perpetrate violence against dehumanized targets. We are more accepting of police violence against a black suspect and more accepting of violence against black people in general. We see the dehumanized targets as less evolved and civilized. These statements represent past research findings summarized in the article by the researchers.

The researchers also say that their results indicate the individuals in the interracial couples would likely not be dehumanized if evaluated separately, but there was something about the interracial pairing that elicited both the emotional and dehumanizing responses.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is very disturbing and certainly brings to mind our work on when to talk and when to stay quiet about racial bias in court. We are not living in a post-racial society, and basing your case strategy on such a rosy assumption is likely to be hazardous to your client. When race is absent from the relevant facts— but not from extra-evidentiary optics—think carefully about how to proceed. Remember that when the case facts are not salient to the fact your client is in an interracial relationship—that is when the bias is most likely to emerge. It’s a tricky and frustrating situation.

Skinner, A., & Hudac, C. (2017). “Yuck, you disgust me!” Affective bias against interracial couples. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 68, 68-77 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2016.05.008

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