The Psychology of Jury Selection

At this point during Jury Duty, about 50 rando...
At this point during Jury Duty, about 50 randomly selected potential jurors (including myself) were waiting around for Jury Selection to begin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Elizabeth Hall
Once it has been determined that a trial will proceed to a jury trial, there are steps that are taken to select a suitable jury to hear the case.  Candidates for venire, which is the large pool of people selected to represent a group of our peers, are selected, usually from voter registration and drivers’ license lists from the jurisdiction represented.  Usually the number varies from 30 to 200 and must represent a fairly accurate cross section of the jurisdiction representing the case according to Greene, Heibrun, Fortune, and Nietzel (2006).  Once this is completed, a process called voir dire is used to weed out unfavorable candidates and select the actual jury members for the case.  This is achieved by questioning each individual separately to ensure that potential jury members are right for the individual case.  (Greene, Heibrun, Fortune, and Nietzel, 2006)
Attorney Mike Faulk asking questions during ju...
Attorney Mike Faulk asking questions during jury selection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Attorneys on sides, prosecution, and defense often take the advice of experts from the field of psychology on which jurors to keep, and which to dismiss to achieve a favorable result.  Each side gets a predisposed number of preemptory challenges in which a potential juror may be dismissed without reason.  It is in this step of jury selection that psychologists are most needed, because a bad jury selection can tip the scales in either direction, and a few can ensure that the outcome of the trial will not be favorable for that side of the issue.  According to Hutson (2007), jury selection advice has become large-scale business for forensic psychologists.  He goes on to say, that some firms offer scientific jury selection advice, while others offer advice based on social psychology.  Either way, the addition of expert advice during the jury selection process is viewed as a valuable tool, because both sides can evaluate the potential jurors and their personalities by trained professionals knowledgeable in the study of people.  (Greene et al, 2006)
Psychologist Roles in the Jury Selection Process
English: W. S. Gilbert's illustration for
English: W. S. Gilbert's illustration for "Now, Jurymen, hear my advice" from Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For forensic psychologists involved with the jury selection process or voir dire, notes Koocher (2009), use their knowledge of people to help the criminal defense attorney select jurors sympathetic to the defendant and most likely to acquit.  Likewise, the prosecutorial attorneys use forensic psychologists to select jury members most likely to convict the defendant.  It is believed, that through the advice given to both sides by forensic psychologists that a fair and balanced jury can be selected.  The advice given by the psychologists is intended help the attorneys weed out jurors from the pool who may show bias for any reason including race, sex, and preexisting beliefs about the circumstances of a case, which are not to be considered in judging guilt or innocence during a trial.  (Greene et al, 2006)
An example of a normal question asked during voir dire might be “Do you believe as a juror that you can set aside any negative feelings you might have toward the defendant because he is black or a police officer (Greene et al, 2006)”?  You can change the end of the sentence to “because he is” whatever the defendant happens to be associated with negatively or positively, as positive feelings towards the defendant can sway jury verdicts as well.  One example of a case such as this involves famous basketball star Michael Jordan and his lawsuit alleging that he broke his promise to star in a movie.  Almost all of the jurors picked for venire confessed that they could not be impartial to such an admired defendant and they had a hard time seating a jury for the case.  In addition, when they finally got a jury seated, coincidence or not, they voted in favor of Jordan.  (Greene et al, 2006)
The Importance of Juror Personality Characteristics
While juror demographics may play a large role in individual juror decisions, the individual personality characteristics play an equal part in determining how a jury will perceive the particulars of any case.  According to Greene et al (2006), studies’ depicting that personality attributes, such as authoritarianism, possessing an internal/external locus of control, belief in a just world, or prior j
Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
ury experience can affect jury perceptions.   According to Hutson (2007), Clarence Darrow said, “Almost every case has been won or lost when the jury is sworn.”  This effectively implies the importance of an effective voir dire and the use of all tools available including advice on human behavior by psychologists for they are deemed the experts on the subject.  (Hutson, 2007)
Scientific Jury Selection and Effectiveness
Giewat (2007) defines scientific jury selection as the successful integration of social science and empirical research as it applies to the courts.  It should be noted that the term scientific jury selection applies to a process used by the legal system to allow trial consultants possessing backgrounds in social science to use psychological theory and tools to aid in the process of jury selection.  The tools often used are community attitude surveys, questionnaires, approved questioning methods, and non-verbal and verbal behavioral cues.
Scientific jury selection uses demographic and personality/attitude aspects in order to assist in the identification of unsuitable or prejudiced jury candidates.  While social scientists use both demographic and personality/attitude factors, it is believed that the personality/attitude data and theory is more reliable as predictors for juror perception of the situation.  Giewat (2007) notes, that Lieberman and Sales stress that specific questioning, as opposed to vague questioning seems to work best.  Greene (2007) asserts that the scope of this work is expanding to pretrial assessments of evidentiary reaction and other services. 
The addition of expert advice during the jury selection process is viewed as a valuable tool, because both sides can evaluate the potential jurors and their personalities by trained professionals knowledgeable in the study of people.  Social scientists can use demographics, and  personality/attitude assessments, along with behavioral theory and individual personality characteristics to assist prosecutors in jury selection.  They also use community attitude surveys, questionnaires, approved questioning methods, and non-verbal and verbal behavioral cues.  The goal is to provide each side, prosecution and defense the chance to question each jury member to determine suitability for jury candidacy.  Our current justice system rules operate under the assumption that allowing either party access to expert advice and preemptory challenges will ensure that a fair and balanced jury is chosen for the case.  (Greene et al, 2006)

Giewat, G.R. PhD, (2007).  Book Review: Scientific Jury Selection.  Retrieved From: http://www.courtinnovation.org/_uploads/documents/giewat.pdf
Greene, E., Heibrun, K., Fortune, W.H., Nietzel, M.T. (2006).  Psychology and the Legal System (6th Ed.).  Florence, Kentucky.  Cengage Learning
Hutson, M. (2007).  Psychology Today.  Unnatural Selection.  Retrieved From: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/unnatural-selection
Koocher, G.P., (2009).  Ethics and the Invisible Psychologist.  American Psychological Association.  Retrieved From: http://www.ethicsresearch.com/images/Ethics_and_the_Invisible_Psychologist.pdf 

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