The critical takeaway from any meaningful discussion about primacy theory and its role in persuading jurors is often the one that is least discussed. Those who tout the importance of primacy theory often talk about priming the jurors to achieve victory, but research shows the real takeaway should be to avoid the early mistakes that cost you the trial. In short, you cannot win your case in jury selection or opening, but you can lose it there.
Everybody knows first impressions are important, but some research shows that negative first impressions are much more powerful than neutral or positive first impressions. This is called the negativity bias and it has been investigated extensively by academic researchers. Specifically, negativity bias recognizes that negative experiences or perceptions have a greater effect on one’s psychological state than neutral or positive experiences. Continue reading →
When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in 2016 during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans, the controversy was almost immediate. The why he was doing it didn’t matter much then, and it doesn’t seem to matter much now. Instead, the protest became about the flag, the military, or even Donald Trump. One survey in October of 2017 showed that while 57% of the respondents checked that “protesting against police violence” was “one” reason for the protests, respondents also checked other reasons: Donald Trump (26%), not sure (18%), something else (20%) and the flag (14%).
This morning, as I was watching yet another story about the “Flag protest,” I wondered if support and/or understanding of the protest would be different if the label was different. While changing the label might help (labeling it what the protest is really about, e.g., “Police Brutality Protest”), what seems to have happened with this protest is that the focus became the flag and anthem as opposed to police brutality and other injustices and inequalities in the African-American community. In other words, the manner over-shadowed the message – the focus was on the protest itself and not the reason for the protest. Continue reading →
In an article called “The Case of the Vanishing Trial Lawyer,” published in the Boston Globe,a veteran litigator, Edward McCarthy, makes a compelling case for the need for associates to gain more trial experience, while acknowledging that their ability to do so is slim since the number of cases going to trial has dwindled so significantly. “Today,” he writes, “Most trial lawyers can’t learn by doing,” and he goes on to discuss how most cases settle or are handled in arbitration. He writes that “The result is that part of the legal profession’s apprentice system is disappearing.” McCarthy references that the judges of the Massachusetts Superior Court recognized the problem and asked law firms to “let less experience lawyers do something – argue a motion, examine a witness – at trial. ‘Without the chance to speak in a courtroom…future generations of litigators will be less equipped to represent their clients effectively.’” Continue reading →
Confirmation bias refers to when people accept or reject evidence based upon what they want to believe as opposed to basing it on the actual merits of the evidence. In some ways, it is a psychological survival mechanism tied to our beliefs about how the world works. Challenges to these beliefs can cause a great deal of chaos and stress, so our brains are, essentially, pre-programmed to seek out evidence that reinforces those beliefs, while minimizing, explaining away, or outright rejecting evidence that challenges them. In fact, this explains the siloed media we have today where people tend to pick which news channels to watch based upon their political affiliation.
For lawyers, confirmation bias can be a significant problem at trial, especially when the first impressions favor the other party. As Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman notes, “The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Sequence matters, however, because the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.” In other words, first impressions at trial often shape how jurors perceive the subsequent evidence and testimony at trial. A poor first impression of the defendant will likely lead jurors to place greater focus and emphasis on evidence and testimony that reinforces the negative view of the defendant and vice versa. Continue reading →
One of the studies that I like to cite more than just about any is the old 3M study that showed that people remember only about 10% of what they are told three days after it is told to them. Apply this to a trial setting and the implication is that jurors will forget up to 90% of what they heard over the course of a trial by the time they reach the deliberation room. To put it a different way, by the time jurors reach the deliberation room, they are overwhelmed, do not remember the majority of what they just heard, and face the difficult task of having to sort through hundreds to thousands of exhibits, their largely disorganized notes, and a stack of jury instructions that can be difficult to decipher. Continue reading →
I’m proud to announce that Jury Selection Handbook: The Nuts and Bolts of Effective Jury Selection, a book that I co-wrote with Ronald Clark from Seattle University Law School, was published this month by Carolina Academic Press and will be available soon on Amazon and at a variety of other online retailers.
Seattle University Law School alum will tell you that Ron Clark is an outstanding professor who is a master at dissecting complex subjects for his students. This book is an extension of his approach. Ron and I dissect the jury selection process, break it down into all of its various steps, and discuss the kinds of strategic choices that attorneys have to make at each of those steps. Some of those choices may be obvious at times, but many others are choices that a lot of attorneys may not realize are available to them. Continue reading →
It has been a busy few months of picking juries for our consultants at Sound Jury Consulting. I have picked three juries in the past three weeks alone and we seem to have had a record number of cases lately that have made it all the way to trial. This has led to a lot of opportunities to see how different attorneys approach voir dire. The different approaches fall generally into three categories: 1) Well-planned and thought-out; 2) Those with questionable goals; and 3) Those with no apparent purpose.
It is difficult to understate the importance of jury selection, regardless of which philosophy you embrace. These are the people who are going to ultimately decide your client’s fate. The problem is that voir dire time is limited, even under liberal conditions. Due to these time constraints, attorneys are often forced to make difficult choices about how to spend their limited opportunity to speak with potential jurors. So let’s look at these three categories in more detail. Continue reading →
The other day I was watching FBI Director Comey’s testimony to Congress regarding the FBI’s Clinton email investigation and findings. It began as a test of my mental fortitude, but I found that I enjoyed watching how Comey handled the questions and delivered his responses. In particular, I admired the way he kept his composure while still being strong and, when necessary, a bit indignant.
Comey wasn’t angry or rude. Instead, when needed, he used righteous indignation. A good example of this came when Comey was being “asked questions” by Florida Representative John Mica. Towards the end of the allotted five minutes, Comey had had enough of the insinuations and thinly veiled attacks on his investigation and conclusions. He sat up a bit straighter, talked a bit louder and clearer, and he stated, “I hope what you’ll tell the folks in the café is ‘look me in the eye and listen to what I’m about to say. I did not coordinate that with anyone. The White House. The Department of Justice. Nobody outside the FBI family had any idea what I was about to say. I say that under oath. I stand by that….’” He ends by saying, “I want to make sure I was definitive about that.” You can watch his testimony here. Continue reading →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Podcast Playbook for Defense Attorneys, Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses strategies for defense attorneys to exert greater influence over the content and structure of jurors’ notes.