Wednesday, 13 May 2015

REACHING A VERDICT - How can a jury be persuaded to change their verdict (guilty/not guilty)

According research, there are 3 ways that a jury can be persuaded, this includes:
  • The use of an expert 
  • Presenting evidence in a confusing manor for one party and a clear manor for another
  • Explaining why inadmissible evidence should be ignored

Pennington & Hastie - Effect of order of testimony

An important aspect of jury trials is how the prosecution and defence attempt to persuade the jury that they are presenting the correct version of events. Social psychologists have noted that in order to 'make sense' of the world people fit the events around them into a story. 

Pennington and Hastie suggest that jurors are no different and will construct a story in order to make sense of the evidence presented to them. Jurors will return a verdict that has 'best fit' their story. Lawyers are aware of this and realise that the type of 'stories' they tell can influence a jury's verdict.
Evidence in court can be presented in one of two orders:

Story Order: lawyers present evidence in the sequence the events actually occurred (easy to construct the time of events and piece together what happened).
Witness Order: Lawyers present the witnesses one at a time (difficult to construct the time of events and evidence put forward is jumbled, therefore more difficult to understand and piece together what happened).

Aim: This research aimed to test the hypothesis that jurors are more easily persuaded by ‘story order’ than ‘witness order.’

Participants: 130 university students that were paid to participate.

Method: Participants were asked to be jurors by listening to a tape recording of a mock murder trial on their own. Pennington and Hastie used a real trial in which a man called Johnson killed a man called Caldwell and was found guilty. Participants were told to reach either a guilty or not guilty verdict by themselves, and then asked to rate their confidence of their decision on a 5 point scale 1 being not at all confident and 5 being very confident. The lawyers representing both the defence (the lawyer defending the accused/criminal) and the prosecution (the lawyer presenting the case against the accused/defending the victim) varied the order in which evidence was given e.g. story or witness order.

This created four conditions, as can be seen below:

Guilty Verdict
Story order
Story order
Witness order
Witness order
Story order
Witness order
Witness order
Story order

Findings and conclusion:

·         Participants were most likely to render a verdict of guilty when prosecution statements were in story order, and defence evidence came in witness order (78%).

·         The jury were least likely to render a guilty verdict when defence evidence was in story order and prosecution evidence in witness order (31%).

·         People were most confident of their verdict when they heard the evidence in story order. From these results it is clear that the story order is more persuasive than witness order. It appears that it is easier for jurors to construct a story from events told in story order than from events told in the wrong order (witness order) as this becomes confusing for the jury. 

·         It has argued that narrative is a mode of thinking that helps us to understand the world and construct memories. Court cases have people constructing their own version of the story in order to make a series of events less confusing, when something is told as a story, we have a clear structure of it. Only in a story-structure can intentions and effects be understood. Stories organize our explanations and understandings of the social world. 

Loftus – Expert eye witness testimony

Aim: To investigate the influence on jurors of expert testimony about eyewitness identification.

Sample: 120 students 

Procedure:120 students in groups of 6. They were told that the study was to determine the nature of decision making in juries. A booklet contained instructions, a description of the crime and a summary of the trial. 

They sample deliberated for 30 minutes then had to reach a group verdict. All participants read the violent version of the crime. 10 juries made up of 6 people read the expert testimony, 10 did not. 

Expert testimony included: people are less accurate at recognising members of another race (white witness, black assailant), and that stress, presence of a weapon and the fact the witness had been drinking were factors known to interfere with accurate identification. Therefore, the expert was defending the criminal/accused.

An observer in an adjacent room to the deliberation timed (on a stopwatch) the length of time spend discussing Eyewitness Testimony (EWT). Deliberations were terminated after 30 minutes if a decision was not reached.

 No expert testimony – Most agreed guilty and spent 7 minutes discussing EWT 
 With expert testimony – 3 juries agreed guilty, 4 not guilty and 3 were unable to reach a verdict. 10 minutes were spent discussing EWT

 Results show that the Expert testimony promoted more discussion of the EWT and it appeared to increase doubt about the defendant’s guilt, this is because the eye witness expert was defending the defendant with his expert knowledge. 

 However, this does not explain the reason why the participants trusted the expert testimony. Could be links with Milgram, i.e. the participants go along with the expert as you assume they are right due to their status.

Expert testimony must be used cautiously as it raises the possibility that not only will the innocent go free as a result of EWT but that the guilty will also.

Pickel - Investigating the effect of instructions to disregard inadmissible evidence

Method: An experiment using a mock trial of a fictional theft, using a mock jury. The defendant in this trial was guilty. The critical evidence was introduced by accident by the witnesses. The evidence was objected by the attorney and then either allowed or overruled by the judge. 
In the former case when jurors were instructed to ignore the inadmissible evidence, this ruling by the judge was sometimes supported by a legal explanation. This legal explanation sounded like this: The inadmissible evidence might be suggestive of bad character in the defendant (the accused) and so you cannot let this bias your judgement. "This prior conviction plays no role in the case today, so please do not take this into consideration when making your verdict". Sometimes no legal explanation was provided which sounded like this: "Inadmissible evidence, ignore ad move on" 

Participants: 236 psychology students 

Procedure: Participants listened to an audio tape of the trial and then completed a questionnaire asking them to make several decisions about the case. One was the verdict, the second was their estimate of probable guilt of the defendant, and third was a rating scale of 1-10 expressing to what extent they believed that the prior conviction (the inadmissible evidence) caused them to believe that the defendant was guilty. 

Mock jurors who heard the inadmissible evidence with no explanation were able to ignore it.

Those who heard the inadmissible evidence with an explanation were LESS likely to give a guilty verdict to the defendant. Due to the attorney giving a thorough explanation as to why they should ignore the prior conviction, this actually backfired and they over ignored it to such an extent that they judged the defendant as less guilty!!! WTF??? 

Conclusion: It seems that calling attention to inadmissible evidence actually backfires! Worryingly increasing the chance of guilty criminals being set free! However, in a court room, inadmissible evidence is never explained, therefore we can question the ecological validity and application of this research. 

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