Archive | July, 2011

Psychology and Jury Decisions

9 Jul

Here we are, just having come off the media-blitzed Anthony Trial.  Somewhere between 80-90% of Americans polled, believed Casey Anthony murdered her toddler, Caylee.  Yet, after just a mere 11 hours of deliberations, the jury of her “peers” returned a verdict of “not guilty” to first-degree-murder, and a host of other charges, etc.  They did convict her, however, of several charges of lying to law enforcement.  Lies are cover-ups–unless one is a liar by nature–which then means a person has nothing to hide if lies become one’s “truth-to-live-by.”

Much of the nation that watched with interest were shocked at the Anthony jury-verdict.  Some of us were not shocked, and predicted the outcome.  I am in the camp of the latter, thank you very much.  However, I am not pleased.  Like many, I am torn between the disconnect between justice and legality.  This is especially prevalent in the criminal “justice” system whenever a person walks because of improper prosecution, or well-paid lawyers who know psychology.


Aside from the evidence that lacked a clear connection in the Anthony case–the kind needed to actually convict a young woman in Florida of killing her child–there was a lot more taking place in the courtroom than the average person may know.

First, only two women in the history of Florida criminal justice system have been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  These two women were hardened serial killers, and the evidence of multiple murders was against them.  There was no such “level” of evidence against Casey Anthony, which is why I predicted acquittal.

Second, psychology was present in the courtroom, as a replacement for DNA and other evidence.  This stratagem was skillfully used by the defense team, and born out of research of juries of the past–the Orenthal James Simpson case being one of these.  Jury consultants were brought in and with them, so too was psychology.

Third, there was strategy.  Consider the following strategy.  Defense attorney Baez admitted his client was a liar right at the beginning of his opening statement.  This is much more than a lawyer’s admission of his client’s nature.  Baez seized the psyches of the jurors.  Baez also claimed Anthony was sexually abused by her father, and that Caylee died of an accidental drowning.  See the picture?  “LIAR + ABUSE = ACCIDENT.”  Was there evidence for any of this?  Hardly.  Was there supposed to be evidence for this?  Not really.  Why then did Baez use extraneous things in his opening in a very important capital murder trial?  The answer is in the “psychology” of it all.


The truth is that law-firms usually employ jury experts, so that they can understand the make up of a jury, based on their written surveys, voir dire, and body language.  The make-up of a jury is way beyond the qualification of an assembly of “peers.”  Lawyers are sometimes not the best judges of people, so they need help in that area.  Group dynamics have a psychological dynamic of their own.  Lawyers attempt to assemble juries which they consider subjective enough, and sympathetic enough to their arguments.  Jury selection and jury assembling is not random.  As a result, the qualification of “peerdom” for a defendant is quite inapplicable.  I say this with the larger cases in mind; the more impacting the case in the media, the more attention will be paid to psychology.  How peer-oriented is that?  Unfortunately, the average person is not privy to such counsel.  This is also a huge inequity in our system of justice.  The italicized phrase being somewhat of a legal conundrum–at least–a moral oxymoron at most!

Trial lawyer consultant, Jonathan Lytle Ph.D., writes the following in the Orange County (CA) Bar Association’s Lawyer Journal:

A familiar refrain from trial consultants is that attorneys should give the strongest possible opening statement.  Consultants grant so much weight to these first words partially based on intuition and anecdotal evidence, but also because actual scientific research supports them as a powerful tool.  An opening statement allows the attorney to provide the framework through which jurors view a case and process evidence.  Information that fits into the established framework is easily remembered.  Information that does not synch is discarded or distorted by jurors.  Research has demonstrated that jurors make their decisions early in a trial.  So, the faster an attorney can ge the jury on their side, the better.  (Lytle, July 2011, Orange County Lawyer, p. 28)


In other words, first impressions, whether fictional, false, or flamboyant are the psychological pictures from which a jury will begin processing what is to come.  This suggested picture is an attempt to create in a juror’s mind what psychologists refer to as “schemata,” a type of framework into which additional bits of information can be placed.

Juries are known to make up their minds early in a trial and then discard what does not fit into their framework, or schemata.  This is called “predecisional distortion.”  Lawyers are encouraged to take advantage of this distortion in alignment with the order of evidence presentation.  The presentation of strongest points of opening and argument, aligned with strongest evidence creates the best-case for juries making up their minds prior to deliberation.

Every day in courts around this nation, attorneys use this reality to paint the prosecutorial, colorful canvas of conviction, or create doubt.  Inasmuch as one understand colors objectively, shades exist and there are layers of paint unseen on all canvases.  The same is true in the courtroom.

In the Anthony case, did not Baez create an unbelievable opening argument?  Did not the jury, throughout the trial, discard the outrageous claims and hold what they considered relevant?  The discards and irrelevancies are indicative that the jury had made up its mind rather quickly in the trial.  Their schemata had been established, due in large part to Baez’s opening statement.  Allow me to expand my point.  Experts, like Lytle, maintain that lawyers should “not leave the good stuff until the end” (p. 29).  Obviously, Baez and team took advantage of this advice.  It is pure psychology.

All things considered, Americans are upset that Baez did not prove the story of what he said happened to Caylee.  Any time a child’s murder is at the center of a trial, it does something serious to the psyche of a nation.  But the truth of the matter is:  BAEZ DID NOT HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING!  He knew full well, that in order to get the jury to arrive at “reasonable doubt,” all he had to do was use psychology of distortion and distraction to arrive at juror predecision.

Sure, like most Americans, I wish our system was more aggressive toward the accused–especially now that our culture has definitely become more dangerous and criminal.  But it is what it is.  We cannot expect perfection from a highly imperfect system that protects up-front, both the innocent and the evil.  What most of us resent is the acquittal of the evil.


Here are a few of the psychological ploys used by Baez.  First, everyone understands how important first-impressions are in all of all lives.  Lawyers, like the rest of us, never have a second-chance to make a first-impression.  First-impressions are what are what the average person relies on the most, in forming opinions.  Baez’s persona and words made a distinct first-impression.

Second, the creation of a story that is unbelievable utilizes what all psychology-experts call the “big-lie that is more believable than small lies strung together.”  Surround a “fish-story” with witnesses that cannot tell the truth, contradict each other, and create doubt of any veracity and consistency, is confusing to the human brain.  If a jury does not know what to believe, then such inconsistency creates doubt.  This is the way it is in the real-world.  Consider a child’s paramour.  If his or her life, recent actions and words are confusing to the parents, then we would probably going to doubt that such a relationship has any future.  Couple this doubt with possible in-laws that are devious by nature, and I don’t think for a moment that the average person would give a blessing to such a marital, or familial connection.  I know I would not.

Third, the human brain cannot operate in a vacuum.  It needs to categorize and come to  conclusions.  The average person does not have the mental toughness to remain in a vacuum for weeks.  Brains work to sift and decide.  As a result, “objectivity” of a jury is truly a notion beyond reality.  Long trials do next-to-nothing in arriving at truth, or to change a jury’s corporate mind.  The longer the trial went on, the more extraneous the information, the more disconnected the testimony, and the more it bolstered predecision on the part of the jury.


Humans take sides early on, then look for reasons to bolster their beliefs.  This happens in politics.  It happens in sports.  This also happens in marriages.  The average person is simply falling into the “comfort zone.”  We do it quickly and we do it comfortably.  Our brain needs closure.  Is this not why open-endings in movies, and in books, etc., really cause our emotions discomfort?  This is simply who we are, whether teenagers, or adults.  Our brains classify, sift, and decide.  When we allow a lawyer to determine the schemata into which evidence is placed, there is a distinct psychological advantage to the lawyer.  Baez used this to his advantage.


The use of psychology can also backfire.  Relying on public sympathies and idealism to reach a death penalty is all right for media attention.  But these same sympathies enter the courtroom with a jury that views a conviction as death sentence for a mid-20s, fresh-faced, weeping liar.  When the prosecution went for the capital-crime home run, their idealism got in the way.  Make no mistake about it. I believe someone killed the toddler.  I believe Casey had a hand in it, or did it herself.  But my belief is not evidence.  My belief is not objective.  My belief is subjective.  It is a fallacy to think that jurors make up their minds as objective humans.  This is not how life is lived.  The same thing can be argued about a relationship.  Allow me to explain.

If a person thinks another person is perfect, how long can that admission hold up before the humanity of the idolized becomes all too obvious.  Overlooking the imperfect means there is a boas, or subjectivity in the way of reality.  Furthermore, trying to prove perfection based on real-life circumstances is not a good strategy.  One would have to be deluded to believe another human is perfect, when the circumstances showed otherwise.  Being imperfect by circumstances does not mean a person is a murderer.


The prosecution used an “idealism” principle and it backfired.  The defense merely stated that to believe in the prosecution’s case would be to believe in something that did not exist, amidst the circumstances.  The Baez and team painted an unbelievable scenario of its own, essentially creating possibility to bolster predecision and bias.  Knowing that proof was not needed to back up its defense, Baez simply allowed jurors to believe early on that an accident was the possible cause of Caylee’s death.  He used psychology on them and allowed them to believe they were making up their own minds.  Realistically, can a jury possibly convict a woman to death if an accident killed the infant?  Bingo.  Case over.

The accident theory has already been put out as to why Juror #4 voted to acquit Anthony of the murder charges.  Baez used psychology to persuade the jury early on.  it obviously worked in on juror #4, and others, according to her.  That’s all it took to create reasonable doubt.  He bolstered the case for the defense by bringing in witnesses who tossed contradiction around like it was candy at Halloween.  Doubt plus doubt does not equal truth.  Unfortunately, either does it equate to justice for a dead toddler.  Nevertheless, once that was established, the trial was over.  The jury had made up its mind.  In the words of Lytle, “Asking the right questions will plant ideas in the jurors’ minds and begin to frame the case according to your position.”  (p. 29)  Lytle is quite astute.  Baez knew exactly what strategy to employ.


In closing, a few curious points warrant further investigative research on my part:

  1. What parts do political underpinnings of jurors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys play in the psychology of jury selection and ultimately jurors’ decision-making processes?
  2. Is it possible that the vast number of defense attorneys are Democrats, whereas it is the opposite, politically, for prosecutors?
  3. How much do lawyers rely on the “psychology of thought in connection to political sympathy” as an unspoken, underlying factor for jury selection?  How much does this affect jury decision-making?  [Is there any thing closer to the truth in politics than the axiom “Republicans and Democrats do not think alike and do not see the world through the same eyes.”]

Weird Parking Lot Experiences

7 Jul

Just yesterday afternoon, I was out and about after work.  I had just parked my
car in a shopping center parking lot when a man walked up to me and asked me
what my doctoral degree was in and where it was from.  My car license plate is
personalized, and I guess the man was quite curious about my pretense.

This was not the first time I was asked about my license plate, or about
my name.  One other time I was asked the genealogy of my family and the
etymology of my last name–all while pumping gas.  The man said that his wife,
who was sitting in their car, was curious.  I am sure we all have our parking
lot stories.

I have to laugh about the gas station confrontations I have had in my
life here in California.  About 5 years ago, I was pumping gas (Yes, the state
trusts us to pump our own)–and I was staring off into the distance and letting
my mind wander.  Suddenly, I heard this voice off to the right of my
daydreaming.  This mid-20s young man challenged me, “What are you looking at,

I removed my sunglasses and said, “Excuse me?  Are you talking to me?
If you are, thanks for the compliment.”

He realized I was much older than he thought, and his bravado fell way
short.  Looking back now, it sort of reminded me about “Men Without Chests”
(C.S. Lewis).  I will save this analogy for another time.  But I went home and
told my wife I was a “punk.”  She replied, “You just found that out after all
these years?”  Wiseacre . . .

So back to my original story.  The man who questioned my degree gave me
a certain degree of his own–a bit of scrutiny.  He made a couple of loaded
statements of accusation that ended with question marks.  You know the kind.
Here is what he said:  “You are not one of those liberal, closed-minded
public-school teachers who indoctrinates our kids are you?”  Notice the
accusation with a question-mark?  I replied, “That’s an awfully closed-minded
thing to say.”  He was quiet, but he followed me into the same store.  Ironic,
yes. But that’s OK.  I don’t mind intellectual confrontations.

After a couple of minutes in the store, I ran into a friend and we began
to talk.  I don’t think I can go anywhere in this town without being known by
someone, or knowing someone.  While I was talking with my friend, the man
blurted out, “So, what do you think is the best thing to invest in, today, since
you teach economics and government.  Is it gold, silver, or some other precious
metal?”  My friend looked at me and smiled.  The other shoppers standing in our
vicinity were just looking.  I mean, the man’s decibel level just about made the
arugula and eggplant jump out of my cart.

My reply to the man’s question went something like this:  “I think the
most important thing to invest in is human lives.  These are the most valuable
resources in this world and in the next world, as well.”  He replied, “Can’t
argue with that answer.”

My friend winked at me.  One other woman adjacent to us spoke out the
words, “You got that right.”

So off I went.  But I did forget the fresh basil.  Dang!

Moral of the story?  Sometimes California fruits are misplaced and found
in the vegetable section–which happens to be one aisle over from the nuts.

%d bloggers like this: