In jury trials, the lawyers begin each case with the process of selecting the jurors. In theory, these jurors are supposed to be representative of the larger community, much like a good, random sample in an experiment. The lawyers are allowed to question each juror, in an attempt to remove any individuals who might possess personal bias against either side. Once again, theoretically, this seems like a pragmatic approach for justice.
However, it should be obvious, by the mere fact that there is a whole career field for psychologists as jury selection advisors, that some sort of abuse is occurring within the process. Perhaps more than any other area of Psychology, the Social realm emphasizes the vulnerability of the human mind to outside influences. Add to this natural predisposition in susceptibility of thought the persuasive appeal of an authority figure like a lawyer and it is seems highly probable that some sort of effect will manifest itself in the jurors’ decisions.
Lawyers freely admit that for them, the success of their voir dire performance and the outcome of the selection process, is the most important determinant of a ruling in their client’s favor, throughout the entire proceedings. Their voir dire allotment of time provides them with an opportunity to not only begin their case presentation to the jury, but also to use it as an opportunity for persuasion. One recorded study that surveyed a large range of jury selection, found that lawyers spent only around twenty-percent of their given time in attempts to identify and remove potentially biased jurors.
The majority of their efforts and time remarking on “points of law, warning the panel about weaknesses in the case, and generally ingratiating themselves with the jurors. ” A particular technique utilized, that of specific word choice within loaded questions, is interestingly enough, a factor in psychological research as well. Whereas in psychology, it is considered a problematic issue for areas like interview and survey research, in the courtroom voir dire, it is seen as an effective tool in evoking target beliefs in the panel audience.
The questions are designed to elicit attitudes and values that the lawyer expects to be helpful in how the jurors interpret the facts of the case. In the trial context, persuasion is the structuring of a lawyer’s legal arguments in a way likely to cause the jury to make a ruling in the best interest of his client. Because their fundamental objective is, of course, victory, lawyers have developed these impressively complex persuasive strategies in order to maximize their influence over the jury.
As is found in the textbook, peoples’ behavior is most influenced by the social situation in which they find themselves, not their personalities or other individual differences. Voir dire, through intentionally directed questioning, provides lawyers the chance to persuasively influence peoples’ attitudes and beliefs. All of this established, the persuasive speech utilized during the critical jury selection portion of the court proceedings, seems like an extremely well suited situation for testing a proposition regarding persuasion as a variable.
If a group of jurors are exposed to persuasive rhetoric, without the aid of forewarning, their votes will reflect a distinctly different voting pattern than their peers in the other juror panel where no such persuasion was experienced. In order to control for possible skews, the two groups will be taken from a sample obtained in an identical manner to that used in official jury duty. A previously decided case, in which none of the participants have any past knowledge about, will be used throughout both experiments.
Real lawyers will be selected to administer the persuasive speech, and their particular legal areas will correspond to that of the lawyers in the standardized case. The acting lawyers will take their entire speech verbatum from the original courtroom transcripts, and after their voir dire has concluded, both groups will experience the remainder of the case proceedings through an original video tape. They will be dismissed for deliberation, and the experimental and correlational results will come with their own findings.
With the experimental portion, the researcher will provide group A, the control condition, with a written description ofthe case and a standard juror questionnaire, while group B, the experimental condition, will receive none of this, but instead experience the voir dire procedure with the acting lawyers administering the persuasive script previously used. The two groups will then watch the video of the trial, and be excused for deliberation. If the null hypothesis is true, persuasion will not influence panel B’s mindset and logically, both groups, given the same information, will arrive at the same decision.
However, it is predicted that the jury findings will not prove similar and will instead express a large effect of persuasive speech over juror autonomy in thought. All things remaining constant except the voir dire procedure, the findings should test the effect of scripted persuasive speech/wording on specific juror attitudes and values. In the correlational design, both conditions will be exposed to the lawyers’ scripted persuasion but group A will receive a forewarning about the speakers’ persuasive intent, and group B will not.
After voir dire, they will watch the video taped trial, and then be excused for deliberation. Once they have reached a verdict, the researcher will be able to use the data to correlationaly determine whether or not prior knowledge of the persuasive intent had an effect on the jurors’ autonomous voting ability. The two variables will be the forewarning correlated with juror voting autonomy. I believe there will be a strong, positive correlation between prior knowledge and the ability to resist persuasive speech.