Traumatic national events, like the COVID-19 pandemic elicit a broad range of emotions in potential jurors. Jurors, like all of us, worry about the safety of our family and loved ones, keeping jobs, the state of the economy, or the stress of taking on new family and educational responsibilities. Recently, we have conducted some national survey research and the data demonstrates that the pandemic has heightened many latent juror attitudes about the government, corporations, and many other institutions and business. These stressors and biases combine to create a mix of emotions that potential jurors bring into the courtroom. Overwhelmingly, and not surprisingly, research on emotion and affective states demonstrates that people bring their emotional baggage with them when making decisions and passing judgements, even if they consciously realize their anger or sadness is extrinsic to the decision they are making. It’s simply human nature. Continue reading →
A key milestone in any jury deliberation is the selection of the process for deliberations. At some point early in the deliberations, a process for the discussion is established. Jurors either verbally decide on a process or they simply default to one. By process, I mean the way in which they discuss the issues in order to reach a verdict. There are many different ways they can approach the discussion of the issues, and that process is important because it fundamentally influences the outcome.
For example, if the process begins with everyone going around and venting about the case in an open-ended fashion, that process makes the jurors’ emotions the most important part of the case…or at least establishes those emotions as initially important, which creates momentum for the side that emotions favor in the case. At that point, the emotions start to serve as filters for what evidence and testimony the jurors accept and reject. Conversely, if the jury starts the discussion by focusing on the verdict form questions and the jury instructions, that establishes that the law and things like the burden of proof are most important, which creates momentum in a potentially different direction. These are just two examples of potential starting points in the process, but there are many other factors to the process. Continue reading →
Next month, the largest jury trial to date against opioid manufacturers, distributers, and sellers will take place in northeastern Ohio. The trial will involve the first case among the consolidated lawsuits brought by about approximately two thousand cities, counties, tribes, and others. In light of the recent decision in Oklahoma, in which a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572M to the state, it is easy to understand why the stakes are significant.
These cases are particularly interesting because of how they mirror the tobacco lawsuits filed by states years ago. The brilliant tactic by the plaintiff attorneys in the tobacco litigation was to make the states the plaintiffs rather than the individual smokers. Before that, when the plaintiffs were individual smokers, it was too easy for the tobacco companies to point the finger at the user and say that it was their choice to smoke. Those kinds of appeals to personal responsibility worked when the plaintiff was an individual user, but having the states as the plaintiffs significantly limited the tobacco companies’ ability to do that. It was hard to place any critical focus on the states, which is so important in jury trials. It is no coincidence that the same has happened here. Continue reading →
Jury selection is difficult. It is impossible to predict exactly how any one individual is going to decide the case. Instead, we look for indicators or glimpses into how a potential juror might decide the case. Some attorneys rely on the simple lifestyle choices of jurors, such as their news sources or what the bumper stickers on their cars say. Others use voir dire to explore jurors’ case-related attitudes and life experiences. While some methods are more reliable than others, they are all imperfect tools for trying to predict the future.
These imperfections inevitably lead to moments of uncertainty during jury selection where attorneys struggle to determine who, among a few possibilities, is the best choice for the use of a peremptory strike. Even when attorneys are confident in their identification of “bad jurors,” the situation often arises where they have fewer peremptory strikes than “bad jurors.” Continue reading →
We quickly learned that Richard was a horrible juror for us in the trucking accident case we were working on. We had decent evidence that the plaintiff had fallen asleep behind the wheel and veered into our truck, but Richard wasn’t having it. As soon as this issue came up in deliberations, he jumped in, stating, “I don’t care what he says. We have all been on the road with truck drivers and they routinely fly over into the other lane without any notice at all.” This quote was so powerful because what Richard was really saying was, I don’t care what the evidence in this case is because I’m going to go with my own personal experiences instead. Fortunately, this was only a mock trial, but it highlights an important reality about jury decision-making: it is an ego-centric process, and the research shows it is only getting worse with the emergence of the millennial juror. Continue reading →
The “law of least effort” is an important principle for understanding jury decision-making. In short, if there are several ways of making sense of the evidence and testimony in a case, jurors will gravitate towards the one that is the least demanding for their brains. As Nobel-winning psychology Daniel Kahneman (who has spent his life studying human decision-making) states, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
In fact, research has consistently shown that we assign greater weight to information and ideas that are more easily accessible to us, regardless of whether that information or those ideas are accurate and reliable. It may be because the information or idea is familiar, easier to understand, makes more intuitive sense, or ties to something that is easier for our brain to access. Continue reading →
Sound Jury Consulting recently conducted a nationwide online survey in which we asked the following: If you were sitting as juror in a trial where your personal beliefs about the case were in conflict with the laws the judge told you to follow, how difficult do you believe it would be to set your personal beliefs aside and not let them influence your decision? 62% said it would be very or somewhat difficult. While the results highlight the importance of a sound jury de-selection strategy, they also speak to what many might call jury nullification. Continue reading →
One of the most popular strategies used and advocated by many plaintiff’s attorneys across the country is the “broken rule” strategy. The theory is that the most important strategy for any plaintiff is to establish a clear rule up front, and then prove that the defendant broke that rule. Some of the popularity of this theory comes from Reptile, written by David Ball and Don Keenan.
As I’ve written before, there are a variety of significant problems and shortcomings associated with the Reptile strategy, one of which is that the “science” that serves as the foundation for the theory has largely been disproven. However, just like some people still believe vaccinations lead to autism, many attorneys have brushed aside the problems with the science behind the Reptile strategy. So let’s set the science discussion to the side and take a closer look at the “broken rule” strategy. Continue reading →
In his 2011 book Thinking Fast and Slow, famed psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman wrote this in his effort to explain the essence of intuitive heuristics: “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”
While the fundamental concept in this quote is not particularly ground-breaking (at least in today’s world of psychological research), Kahneman’s phrasing eloquently hammers home a critical point for attorneys and how they think about their cases. Continue reading →
I had a very interesting experience recently on a case in New York. While we had worked with the client before, we had never worked with this particular group of attorneys. The stakes were significant and there were ongoing discussions about a potential mock trial. These discussions created an interesting dynamic where the client wanted to do a mock trial, but the client’s attorneys did not support the idea and questioned the value of such a project. Notably, the client, who we had worked with several times in the past, had never conducted a mock trial before, so while he was convinced that there was value to a mock trial, he could not necessarily articulate what the specific benefits of conducting one would be.
The end result was that the client made the decision to move forward despite his attorneys’ lack of interest. Afterwards, he was so impressed with the critical insights that we learned that the decision was made to conduct a second mock trial a month later in order to maximize the trial team’s intel for its strategy development and trial presentation decisions. Continue reading →