Can a Jury Believe What It Sees?

juryboxdrawing Can a jury believe what it sees? That may seem like a stupid question, but a new study confirms it’s not.  G. Daniel Lassiter, Ph.D., of Ohio University,  recently conducted a series of experiments using focus groups and videotapes of criminal interrogations. Mock juries were shown exactly the same interrogation, but some saw only the defendant, while others had a wider-angle view that included the interrogator. When the interrogator isn’t shown on camera, jurors are significantly less likely to find an interrogation coercive, and more likely to believe in the truth and accuracy of the confession that they hear — even when the interrogator explicitly threatens the defendant.

Professor Lassiter and other psychologists have consistently shown this “camera perspective bias” across a substantial series of experiments, finding in one study that even professionals like judges and police interrogators are not immune.

Along the same lines we are definitely aware that people confess to crimes they did not commit. This has been proven scientifically time after time. But why?

Dr. Lassiter is a member of Ohio University’s Social Judgment and Decision Making Section of the Department of Psychology.  “The members of the social judgment and decision making section, therefore, are interested in how judgments are formed as well as how they are translated into choices and actions. Among the topics we investigate are legal, organizational, and medical decision making, the influence of personal values and preferences on judgments of others, the ways in which characteristics of perceivers (e.g., their mood) and the people perceived (e.g., their race) influence the way ongoing behavior is organized, the process by which people achieve and maintain several goals in dynamic and complex environments, as well as more basic judgment and decision making processes such as numerical estimation, probabilistic judgment, and the formation and expression of preferences and choices.”

In the last ten years or so, as part of my personal injury trial practice, I have devoted a significant amount of time to researching and understanding how juries come to their decisions and  what tools I can use to influence their decisions beyond just witness testimony and documentary evidence. I mean, come on…if there is something out there you could use to influence juries without their even being aware of it, wouldn’t you use it, too?  Professor Daniel Ariely is a leading scientist in the field of behavioral economics and his book “Predictably Irrational:  The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” questions whether an individual really has free will at all, or is that just an illusion? Professor Ariely’s  groundbreaking experiments are not only entertaining, but reveal a world of subliminal persuasion many of us are totally unaware of.

In the last ten or so trials of mine I have applied many of Professor Ariely’s findings, trying to use what we know of how people reach decisions to help them reach a favorable decision to my client.  I have yet to see behavioral scientists do this, i.e., apply their techniques and their findings to a jury trial. I am doing just that now in every case I try. And it is paying off. Of course, a good trial lawyer is beyond adequately prepared with witnesses’ testimony and necessary documents to admit into evidence and the case law they may need to support their arguments made to the trial judge throughout the trial. But I go a step further and use these behavioral economics or judgment in decision making lessons to enhance my ability to persuade with what I already have.  Wouldn’t you want your lawyer to do that?

Robin Frazer Clark pursues justice for those who have personal injury claims as a result of being injured in motor vehicle wrecks, trucking wrecks, defective products, defective maintenance of roads, premises safety, medical malpractice and other incidents caused by the negligence of others. Ms. Clark is the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia and a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and has practiced law in Georgia for 26 years. Mrs. Clark is listed as one of the Top 50 Women Trial Lawyers in Georgia and is a Georgia Super Lawyer. Robin Frazer Clark~Dedicated to the Constitution’s Promise of Justice for All.