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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Post-verdict Correction for Racial Animus in the Jury Room: Can it be done?

The McCowen Case in Massachusetts

Earlier this month, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts unanimously rejected the appeal of Christopeher McCowen, who was convicted of murdering Christa Worthington on Cape Cod. The major grounds for McCowen's appeal was that jurors revealed, after the trial was over, that the deliberations had been peppered by racially insensitive remarks and hurt feelings over perceived racial animus.

While the Federal Rules of Evidence, and most state counterparts, preclude jurors testifying about their deliberations after the fact, Massachusetts has an exception carved out for alleged racial prejudice. McCowen's appeal was allowed under this exception. Ultimately, the Supreme Judicial Court found arguments that racial animus affected the final verdict unpersuasive. New Chief Justice, Roderick Ireland, wrote in his concurrence that he wished the trial judge had conducted a more thorough voir dire of the jurors before making his initial ruling.

Ireland's opinion suggests some optimism that a post-verdict investigation of jury deliberations can be a successful method of reducing the influence of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system. This view is shared by Colin Miller, a professor at The John Marshall Law School, who wrote a piece, entitled Without Bias: How Attorneys Can Use The Right to Present a Defense to Allow for Jury Impeachment Regarding Juror Racial, Religious, or Other Bias for The Jury Expert, in March of this year.

I was one of the commenters on Miller's article for The Jury Expert. I am not so sanguine about the efficacy of post-verdict juror interviews, as a tool of reducing the influence of racial animus among jurors. I reproduce my response below. Comments are, of course, welcome.

The Hollow Promise of Post-Verdict Juror Testimony: Circumventing FRE 606(b) won't overcome racial prejudice

I have read with great interest Professor Miller's article, outlining an argument in favor of loosening the restriction on juror testimony to impeach criminal verdicts, where racial prejudice is alleged. I must say that I am not entirely persuaded that his approach can circumvent the logic of FRE 606(b). Of particular concern is a recognition that any effort at post-conviction relief begins a completely new phase of the judicial process, with new procedures, presumptions and burdens of proof. As such, one cannot easily analogize from forms of trial testimony to juror post-verdict testimony. That is, the jurors are most assuredly not testifying at the defendant's trial. Secondly, I seem to place a higher value on the interests being protected by 606(b) - namely the rights of jurors to deliberate free from state intervention or recrimination - than does Professor Miller.

Even were one able to loosen the bonds of 606(b), I am concerned that holding more post-verdict hearings, complete with juror testimony, wouldn't accomplish very much. This is a very blunt, unwieldy instrument for correcting the ills of racial animus. I outline below why I believe this to be so.

The 606(b) Exception Exception - The Massachusetts Rule

Reading the language of FRE 606(b) (and the state counterparts, which generally include the same language), there does not appear to be any room for impeaching a verdict based on racial animus infecting jury deliberations. Clearly, such animus falls squarely within the "mental processes" language and any jury discussion of racial issues falls under the "deliberations" prohibition.

Many impediments to impartial deliberations that would seem to be much more "extraneous" or "outside" have been interpreted to fall under the prohibitions of FRE 606(b). Verdicts have been allowed to stand despite the extreme depression, schizophrenia and mental retardation of jurors. The most famous case testing 606(b), Tanner v. U.S. (1978), involved a jury that got drunk and took cocaine together during deliberations. If cocaine and mental retardation don't qualify as "extraneous" influences, it is hard to think how racism might.

I was very surprised then to hear that a Massachusetts trial judge was conducting a hearing to investigate the verdict in the case of Christopher McCowen. McCowen, a black sanitation worker, had been convicted of murdering Christa Worthington, a white woman who lived on his route. A few days later, three jurors contacted the defense attorney to report racially charged irregularities in the deliberations.

I discovered that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has carved out a specific exception to 606(b) when racial animus is alleged. Although evidence that a juror made ethnically or racially prejudiced remarks during deliberations is not evidence of an "extraneous matter," the Supreme Judicial Court has held that a judge has authority to inquire into such matters because the existence of such remarks may deprive a defendant of the right to be tried by an impartial jury. Commonwealth v. Laguer (1991).

So, Mr. McCowen got his hearing (Commonwealth v. McCowen, Barstable Superior Ct., April 4, 2008). All the jurors were interviewed. A few racially insensitive remarks were recalled, as were several apologies. In the end, Judge Gary Nickerson was not convinced that racial animus infected the deliberations, something the defendant had the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence. So, even in a state with the most liberal standard available for reinvestigating a verdict due to racial prejudice, admitted instances of racially insensitive remarks were insufficient to bring the defendant relief.

So, you secured a hearing - now what?

I would strongly advise against relying too heavily on 606(b) exceptions to overcome racial bias in the jury room. There are just too many things working against you. First of all, while some states like Massachusetts have carved out "racial animus" exceptions to the prohibition against juror testimony on matters relating to deliberations, not many of those exceptions were enthusiastically embraced by the state Supreme Courts. A state's official position on this topic could change tomorrow.

Second, all the exception gets you is a hearing (provided you've got solid affidavits from some jurors). Convincing a judge that the verdict was the result of racial prejudice is going to be a bear. The main reason for this, of course, is that the very same jurors complaining about the verdict voted for the verdict themselves (except in Oregon and Louisiana, where criminal verdicts need not be unanimous).

Imagine that you were an African American juror, sitting on a case with racial overtones. One or two of your fellow jurors start uttering remarks that are racially insensitive, maybe even inflammatory. Will that make you more likely to vote guilty? I don't think so. So, the first question any sensible judge will have for a juror who alleges that a verdict was tainted by racial animus is, "Then, why did you vote for it?"

The most likely scenario, leading to a juror contacting a defense attorney and complaining about the racial tension in the jury room, is that the juror experiences regret about the verdict for some reason. That is, after the fact, she comes to wish that she had voted differently. Most likely, she reads about the case in the newspaper, or hears about it on television, and learns some things that did not come out at trial.

The exceptions to 606(b) are not intended, however, to circumvent the other rules of evidence. Judges know this and no good judge will allow juror regret to impeach a verdict. As the judge in the McCowen appeal wrote, "The oft-expressed second thoughts of a conscientious juror do not necessitate a new trial."

Consider the final paragraph in the opinion denying McCowen's motion for a new trial:

"One final observation is in order. For over thirty years, this author has witnessed the delivery of verdicts in serious criminal cases. Watching jurors being polled has shown in many instances, a trembling hand, a tear trickling down, or the word "Guilty" getting caught in a juror's throat. The polling of the jury in this case was extraordinary. After eight days of deliberations, not one juror trembled, or shed a tear or choked on his or her words. Unfettered unanimity was obvious from the conduct of the jurors as well as from the words they spoke as they were individually polled."
Avoiding racial prejudice in the jury room

While Professor Miller spends the bulk of his article articulating his attack on FRE 606(b), he ends with a list of sensible suggestions for minimizing the likelihood that racial animus will contaminate a jury's deliberations.

Remember that 606(b) only applies after the verdict has been rendered. If you wait until then to try to rectify problems with your jury, the horse has already left the proverbial barn. The key is to be vigilant with respect to racial issues throughout the entire trial process.

By all means, follow Professor Miller's advice with respect to jury selection, but I would pay particular attention to his admonition to request a jury instruction regarding the reporting of juror misconduct. While it might not be prudent to mention racial prejudice explicitly, it is critical that the jurors are made aware that the judge is available to help with any issues that come up during the trial and deliberations. The judge should let each juror know that she should immediately come forward if she is at all concerned that she, or any other juror, has seen, heard or done anything that she believes might not be appropriate.

With any luck, you will have a judge who can couch such an instruction in a non-threatening way. In order to avoid reactance on the part of jurors, they must perceive this admonition as a genuine offer to help them work through any issues that might emerge.

Such an instruction can be critical because the prohibition against voir dire for the jurors does not apply until after a verdict is rendered. So, if jurors come forward during any point of the trial or deliberations, a proper investigation into possible racial prejudice can be conducted.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Dissenters Dilemma: Holdout jurors face hostility and threats

One holdout's harrowing tale

JoAnn Chiakulas was a juror on the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, charged with many counts of corruption, stemming, in part, from his alleged attempt to sell President Obama's former Senate seat for cash and political considerations. In the end, the jury hung with respect to 24 of 25 counts, finding him guilty only of lying to federal agents.

Despite an apparent agreement among the jurors to simply return home after the trial, eschewing interviews with the press, Ms. Chiakulas found herself "outed" as the holdout juror almost immediately. Forewarned that her house had been surrounded by press, she sought refuge at her daughters house and tried to ignore the incessant ringing of her cell phone. In an interview with Ira Glass on PRI's This American Life, she discusses at length the reasoning behind her position on Blagojevich's guilt, as well as the environment of hostility to which she was subjected by the other jurors. The interview is fascinating and well worth a listen.

Interpretation, Intensity and Isolation

According to Ms. Chiakulas, she was not the only juror to have doubts about whether the state had made its case against Blagojevich. Since no money or favors ever changed hands, all of the evidence against the Governor was circumstantial and open to interpretation. Among the open questions,
What exactly was he asking for?
Was this kind of posturing and horse-trading common among politicians?
Given how emotional and irrational the Governor seemed to be, was he just "talking trash?" 
Again, according to Ms. Chiakulas, the vast majority of the jury had decided by the end of the trial that Blagojevich was guilty of pretty much everything he had been charged with, making deliberations a mere formality. In addition, the jurors discussed openly the pressure they felt from the public to punish Blagojevich for his transgressions. It was, then, through this "fait accompli" lens that most of the jurors viewed Ms. Chiakulas' reluctance to convict.

While the jurors were apparently cordial enough at the beginning, things turned sour when it became clear that Ms. Chiakulas wasn't going to "come around." Pretty soon, she felt as if she were under siege. Pleasant conversation turned to insults and accusations. Her rationality and emotional soundness were questioned, as were her motives. Some of the jurors sent a note to the judge, asking that she be removed from the jury, on the grounds that she wasn't deliberating in "good faith."

When chiding, challenging and pleading failed to change her mind, certain jurors turned to intimidation in order to change her vote. Ms. Chiakulas tells one rather haunting story of a juror who had been sitting at another part of the table for several days. Finally fed up with Ms. Chiakulas' recalcitrance, this juror moved to directly opposite her and spent hours intently glaring directly at her.

Most holdouts buckle

Regardless of whether you agree with the way in which Ms. Chiakulas interpreted the evidence in this case, you have to applaud her resolve under such withering scrutiny. She was the target of intense hostility and bullying, without any way to escape, and she stuck to her guns. Most of us would not hold up so well.

Don't flatter yourself in thinking that you would hold out under such attacks. The data say otherwise. As I reported in a Jury Box Blog posting last year, Nicole Waters and Valerie Hans, as part of the National Center for State Courts project on hung juries, gave out post-trial surveys to almost 4000 jurors across 4 states and got back completed forms from almost 3500. This covered 367 trials. Among the questions they asked was: "If it were entirely up to you as a one-person jury, what would your verdict have been in this case?" It is important to appreciate that all of these verdicts were unanimous, in that all the jurors officially voted for it. Therefore, each "conforming dissenter" (Authors' term) is someone who voted for a verdict she thought was wrong.

The numbers were staggering. Clearly Ms. Chiakulas is pretty unique in refusing to cave in to majority pressure. Here is how I summarized the study's findings in that earlier post:
Remember that estimates of hung jury rates range around 7%. These are the cases with a dissenter who refused to conform. In the Waters and Hans study, 38% of juries contained at least one juror who disagreed with the general outcome of the case but voted for it anyway (conviction or acquittal). This is the most conservative measure of dissent. Juries are often faced with multiple charges against the defendant or a choice among lesser-included-offenses. So, it is possible that a defendant can be convicted, but not of the charge that a juror thought was most appropriate. Taking this into account, 54% of juries contained at least one juror who disagreed with the jury's verdict on at least one charge. That is, more than half of the juries contained at least one juror who voted insincerely. Nearly half of the juries (46%) contained at least one juror who disagreed with the verdict for the most serious charge facing the defendant.
So, when deliberations in criminal cases fail to generate unanimous consensus, the last holdout is more than five times more likely to give up and vote with the majority than to hang the jury. Given the sort of behavior Ms. Chiakulas describes, can we really be surprised by this statistic?

The Solution? Unanimity has to go.

It is important to realize that the majority jurors in the Blagojevich case weren't "wrong." Neither was Ms. Chiakulas. With so much discretion in the hands of a jury, from interpreting the credibility of witnesses, to balancing the relative importance of competing evidence, to resolving "mens rea" issues, reasonable people can -- and do -- disagree. Even when twelve disparate people do succeed in agreeing about who did what to whom when, there is always the thorny issue of "reasonable doubt", a term without a definition. Each juror is free to impose her own threshold. We know from experimental research that there is huge variation in how certain people need to be in a defendant's guilt to vote for conviction.

So, the problem is not that the jurors in the Blagojevich trial could not all agree. The problem is that the criminal justice system forces them all to vote the same way to deliver a verdict. The usual rationale for this requirement is that it instills confidence in the correctness of the verdict. But, as the Waters and Hans study clearly shows,

The "unanimity" of criminal verdicts is an illusion!

Legal scholars are trumpeting something that does not exist. Criminal verdicts are just as likely to be the result of bullying, intimidation, compromise, fear and just plain exhaustion as real unanimous consensus. In difficult cases, where reasonable people can disagree about the correct verdict, real unanimous consensus seems almost completely absent, with verdicts always dependent on some jurors voting against their true beliefs.

Here is what we do know about a system that requires a unanimous verdict.

  1. There is a huge premium placed on jury selection, to avoid the possibility that "ouliers" will end up on the jury. This is critical because such outliers are most likely to reach different conclusions than their peers, endangering unanimous consensus. This is really the only argument propping up the morally, ethically and legally bankrupt practice of peremptory challenges.
  2. The extensive use of peremptory challenges, along with judicial sensitivity to jurors who might be "biased," results in juries that fail miserably in any effort to reflect a fair cross-section of the community from which they are drawn. Essentially, anyone with strong views on topics relevant to the case at hand will be dismissed. This has a detrimental impact on the completeness and inclusivity of jury deliberations.
  3. Jurors who reach conclusions that differ from the majority of other jurors come to be seen as obstructionist. Their views are resented because they interfere with the delivery of a verdict. Many jurors who find themselves in the minority choose to remain silent for fear of the reactions their opinions might engender.
  4. Jurors in the majority are placed in the unenviable position of being asked to convert any dissenters by whatever means possible. The judiciary has declared that it does want to know how the jury verdict sausage is made. As such, juries are simply told to do whatever it takes to return a unanimous verdict. Even jurors who don't really want to resort to bullying and cajoling may feel forced to do so in order to satisfy the Court.
  5. Lots and lots of jurors in criminal case in the United States are lying to us. When asked by a judge, "So say you all?," the foreman replies, "So say we all." And it's all a big lie that everyone knows about but no one is willing to expose. Why should we endorse a system that forces jurors to take an oath to vote sincerely and then imposes a voting requirement that begs them to violate that very oath?
  6. England abandoned unanimity for jury trials in 1968. Did you hear about the riots? That's because there weren't any. Oregon and Louisiana have used non-unanimous verdicts in criminal cases for centuries. No riots there either. In Australia, the states that still have unanimity are under pressure from the public to move away from unanimity.
The solution is to move away from unanimity to a more reasonable voting system for criminal trials. For instance, we could require 8 guilty votes for a conviction. Absent that number, the defendant is acquitted. This would, of course, also eliminate the wasteful spending associated with retrials following hung juries. I do believe that that concern that a majority will simply vote for a conviction and refuse to listen to dissent is a real one. There are two possible solutions to this concern. First, one could impose a minimum deliberation time (which would presumably increase with the seriousness of the offense). Alternatively, one could impose a unanimity requirement for the decision to stop deliberating. So, if the jurors are not unanimous as to the correct verdict, but they are unanimous in thinking that further discussion will not be productive, they can vote to end deliberations and render a verdict.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tragedy, Hindsight Bias and the Blame Game

A Tragic Spray of Bullets
At a gun show in Westfield, Massachusetts, organized by a former police chief, Chistopher Bizilj (age 8) lost his life. Among the guns that two men brought to the show was a small Uzi submachine gun. They handed the gun to Bizilj, who started to fire the gun, lost control, and accidentally and fatally shot himself.

Now, the event organizer and two weapons providers are on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the boy's death. Originally scheduled for trial this month, the case has been continued until December.

The three defendants will certainly attempt to defend their actions as inherently safe and reasonable. Their defense will be that this was a horrible, unforeseeable accident. Such a defense might have difficulty holding sway even among a group of philosophers and legal scholars, sitting around a conference table. The odds are even longer in an emotionally charged courtroom.

No Such Thing as an Accident?
One major obstacle facing the defense is "hindsight bias," a term that I have discussed multiple times in other Jury Box posts. In short, hindsight bias refers to the tendency of people to perceive a highly unlikely, or freakish, event as having been more likely than it was, just because it happened. For instance, if someone gets struck by lightening in your home town, you might come to believe that this is a much more common occurrence than it actually is.

Hindsight Bias tends to lead jurors down a path of irrational inferences. Because people don't like the idea of life being beyond their own abilities to control it, they tend also to overestimate the likelihood that someone is actually responsible for a freakish occurrence, especially a dangerous one. The crazier and more improbable the circumstances, the more uncomfortable it makes people feel. They feel increasingly compelled to assign blame to someone. This results in a rather perverse relationship between the randomness of an event and the need of people to hold someone responsible for it. (This is actually the nexus of hindsight bias and terror management theory.)

One of the greatest fears facing any parent is the prospect of losing a child to senseless violence. A juror will internally resist seeing this event as an accident because doing so only highlights the vulnerability of their own children. While the defense might hope for some support among jurors who are gun advocates, such people are likely to try to differentiate themselves from the defendants. "Oh, a responsible gun owner would never handle a weapon that way. I always lock my guns when children are around. I'd never hand a loaded weapon to a small boy. That's just what the left-wing loonies think we do all the time."

From Blame Avoidance to Blame Shifting
In light of the issues identified above, it will be very difficult for the defendants in this case to convince a jury that the boy's death was simply the result of a tragic accident. The desire to hold someone accountable will just be too strong. The defendants would do well to try to shift the blame elsewhere. This strategy is not without risk and might engender some resentment among jurors. But it also just might work.

The major difficulty here might be finding someone else to point the finger at. One obvious possibility is the boy's parents. What were they doing taking an 8-year old to a gun show? Did his father really let him just take the gun? Had they ever taught him about gun safety? The danger of such a strategy, however, is self-evident. Because the parents have just suffered such a terrible loss, the defendants would face major resentment for "blaming the victim."

Perhaps the event organizer can point to regulations that precluded him from keeping children out of the event. Perhaps the suppliers can point to manufacturer guidelines that identify the gun as suitable for use by youngsters. The gun suppliers have already claimed that Fleury, the event organizer, incorrectly assured them that it was legal in Massachusetts for a minor to fire an Uzi. In addition, the gun club that hosted the event has already settled its criminal charges. This provides an opportunity to assign blame to a party that won't be in the courtroom to defend itself.

Over all, I believe that the defendants in this case will have a very difficult time overcoming the effects of hindsight bias. I fully expect plea deals to be struck before the jury ever gets charged.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Saving Chuck Turner from Himself: The value of witness prep focus groups

Chuck Turner, a longtime Boston City Counsellor, was convicted last week of taking bribes. He was arrested after the FBI conducted a sting operation, employing one of Turner's associates as an informant. Ronald Wilburn was sent into Turner's office to ask for help obtaining a liquor license. While there, Wilburn slipped Turner $1000 in cash during a handshake, all of which was caught on FBI surveillance video.

There are a couple of noteworthy features of the trial. First, the video is very grainy. So, while it is clear that something changed hands, and that it was almost certainly money, there is no way to tell how much. Secondly, Mr. Wilburn was overtly hostile to the FBI during his testimony. While he generally corroborated  the FBI's account of what went down, he greatly resented having been forced to participate in the sting operation and did not try to hide his contempt for the Feds in court.

So, after the Prosecution rested, things did not look good for Chuck Turner. There was, however, some hope that some jurors might have been upset with the way in which the FBI agents conducted themselves. While I rather doubt that any of them would have voted to acquit, I could have envisioned them settling on a verdict centered around minor charges.(Obstruction of justice).

Then Chuck Turner opened his mouth. Despite his attorney begging him not to take the stand, and one supporter literally trying to drag him back to his seat by his suit cuff, Turner insisted on testifying in his own defense. Turner took the stand and proceeded to hem and haw and fail to remember things. He denied small things that had been well-documented and claimed amnesia when convenient. In short, he came across as a smug, contemptuous liar, who believed that he could wiggle out of any situation on the strength of his own charm and guile. Needless to say, the jury didn't buy it.

Any experienced litigator has had a client who just didn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Either the person has insisted on testifying when he shouldn't have, or he insisted on giving a long, convoluted answer to a straightforward question. So, what can be done about a client who insists on talking himself into an adverse verdict?

Typically, such a client has a poor sense about how his testimony will be perceived. Either he simply does not appreciate how he comes across in public, or he fails to anticipate how poorly his style will translate into a courtroom setting. Since many such people are in positions of authority, they are not used to taking directions about message from others. So, how do you convince someone like this to do what's in his own best interest?

This is where videotaped witness preparation can really save the day. Rather than having a hypothetical discussion with your client about what to do on the stand, it is critical to submit the client to a realistic direct and cross examination. Make sure that the attorney you have recruited to act as opposing counsel is very well-versed in your case and really goes after your client. Exploit his weaknesses, trap him in contradictions and let him hang himself.

Once the session is over, review the videotape with your client. In most cases, the witness will quickly come to appreciate his deficiencies on the stand. Where the person continues to be obtuse (or insists he can fix things with a snap of his fingers), the next step is to assemble a small focus group of jury eligible people from the relevant jurisdiction. Show the practice testimony to these subjects and have a moderator lead a discussion about their reactions.

If Chuck Turner's defense team had conducted this simple exercise, I am pretty confident that his lawyers would have been able to convince him not to take the stand at his trial. While he might have still been convicted of some crime, he would not have created a permanent record of himself lying under oath in a court of law.

The lesson: Sometimes it is not enough to tell your client what to expect at trial -- You have to show him.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Smart, sullen and deadly: Jury must wrest with Asperger's in MA murder case

Another Tragedy Grips a High School

John Odgren was enrolled in a class on forensic science at his high school, in one of Boston's bucolic suburbs. Always awkward with his classmates, John had started wearing a trench coat and fedora to school. Students who tried to befriend him were put off by his obsession with knives and common discussion of violence. During one class session, John outlined his plan for the perfect murder, which involved luring a trusting acquaintance to a remote location and using a knife to kill him. Classmates were freaked out by John's seemingly cold-hearted calculation and devious planning. As it turned out, they had every reason to be.

Not long afterwards, John Odgren followed a shy sophomore, new to the school, into a bathroom and stabbed him to death with a long knife he had brought to school. Odgren told investigators that he had brought the knife in for protection, convinced by the symbolism in a Stephen King novel that something horrible would happen to him that day. Another student, who just happened to be in one of the stalls, heard the victim call out, "Ow! You're hurting me! Why are you doing this?" The student emerged to find John Odgen sitting on the bathroom floor, knees pulled up to his chest, holding the bloody knife.

As horrifying as this scene is, there would seem to be little remarkable about it from a criminal justice perspective. One person committed a completely unprovoked act of violence against another. The outcome would seem to be clear.

The Psychology of Intent

There is, however, one significant wrinkle to this story. John Odgren has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which lies along the autism scale. Asperger's sufferers are usually characterized by normal to high intelligence (Odgren allegedly has an IQ of 140), but the inability to experience the empathy necessary to form emotional bonds with others. This disability is often manifested in, among other things, the inability to recognize emotional expressions in others. That is, while you or I can distinguish a smile from a frown (and what each implies), someone with Asperger's Syndrome cannot.

In Massachusetts, the mens rea requirement for first-degree murder is "deliberate and premeditated malice." For second-degree murder, a killer must have experienced "malice aforethought."

Malice aforethought is generally defined as: "the conscious intent to cause death or great bodily harm to another person before a person commits the crime." Note that it must be a conscious intent. So, if a person forms the intent in a hallucinogenic haze, it does not suffice for malice aforethought. 

John Odgren is employing an insanity defense to the murder charge, claiming that his psychological condition (He also has ADHD, a bipolar disorder and possibly OCD) precluded his ability to consciously form the necessary intent to commit murder. Massachusetts has adopted the Model Penal Code definition of "legal insanity." Under this test, "a person is not responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of such conduct, as a result of mental disease or defect, he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."

Jury must determine criminal culpability

This murder case then will boil down to a jury's collective decision about whether John Odgren did or did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions on the day that he stabbed that fellow student. The trial itself is now complete. The arguments followed fairly predictable lines. The DA emphasized the calculating nature of the crime and its similarities to what John Odgren seems to have been considering for weeks. The defense focused on Odgren's myriad psychological problems, constant harassment at school and increasing obsession with violent books, movies and video games. The defense presented three psychologists who testified that Odgren committed the violent act while essentially in an obsessive trance. They concluded that he was essentially shocked back to reality by observing the horrific consequences of his actions. The DA presented a rebuttal expert who, while not disputing the general diagnoses of Odgren's conditions, concluded he was nonetheless capable of discerning right from wrong.

There are actually two questions to be answered. Even if the jury determines that John Odgren understood the criminality of his actions, the jurors must wrestle with the question of whether he was psychologically capable of resisting his persistent violent urges and compulsions. The final item presented by the DA during closing arguments was an audio recording of Odgren laughing about what investigators found while searching his bedroom. This is intended to show a lack of remorse and an arrogance by Odgren about his ability to get away with the crime. Such callousness can cut both ways, however, as jurors might conclude that anyone who could react that way while in prison for murder must be out of touch with reality.

The need to make sense out of chaos

I believe that the defense strategy in this case was incomplete.

The defense team did a fairly good job of portraying Odgren as a thoroughly disturbed teenager with a  history of mental problems. This is an important linchpin of the case, as it provides an opportunity for those jurors who don't want to hold him responsible to make their arguments. A "not guilty by reason of insanity" vote passes the proverbial sniff test.

Unfortunately, this only provides jurors with half of what they need to achieve emotional satisfaction from a not guilty vote. People need order in their lives. They need to be able to make sense of the world around them. They need to feel some control over their environment. Without this sense of control, life becomes unbearable. This explains, in part, people's visceral fear of the unknown. It also explains attachments to rituals, customs, religions and other systems that preserve the status quo. 

The tragic death at the center of this case -- violent, senseless, seemingly random -- must seriously disturb the jurors' need for order and control. It is a parent's worst nightmare -- the loss of a child in a way that no parent can anticipate. The natural response of the jurors in this case will be to try to impose order on the situation. The idea that this was a freakish, unanticipated, random tragedy, for which no-one is really responsible, will be a completely unbearable option for the jurors. It just won't do.

So, the defense has provided the jurors with reasons not to blame John Odgren for this tragedy. What the defense has failed to do is provide them with someone else to blame. Trust me on this one: the jurors will need to blame someone. The only question is whether they will blame John Odgren or someone else.

had I been advising the defense team in this case, I would have recommended telling a somewhat different story. This is the narrative I would have crafted:

There are two victims in this crime. The dead boy and John Odgren were both failed by a system that too often shuffles emotionally ill children from program to program, treating them like human guinea pigs, testing out their most recent theories of mainstreaming or immersive learning. The so-called experts in this case didn't protect John Odgren from the bullies. They didn't protect John Odgren from the demons in his head. They didn't protect him from himself. And because of their failures, one boy is dead and another might as well be, ruined for life by a disaster that didn't have to happen. The signs were there for years. The thoughts of suicide. The absence of emotional control. The inability to feel any emotions but fear and anger and hate. The psychologists and teachers and school administrators weren't in that bathroom on that terrible, fateful day, but they might as well have been, handing John Odgren his knife.

Would this argument have worked in this case? We will never know (although I suppose we could run some focus group research in other parts of the country). What I do know is that these jurors need a way to direct their grief and their fear and their anger, someone to hold responsible. They need to be able to wrap their brains around the case and conclude that they have identified the villain. The defense had a responsibility to their client to give the jury someone else to blame.

Jurors will speculate about lots of things. Nothing precludes them from assigning blame all over the map in this case, regardless of whether the defense has pointed its finger at any particular candidates. Perhaps the jurors will find their own way to sparing John Odgren in this case. If they do -- if they find him not guilty -- I fully expect to discover that they did so by assigning blame elsewhere. 

As the verdict comes in, I will be sure to report it here on my blog. I'll offer some post-trial comments and I'll keep you abreast of any juror interviews that appear in the press.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trial Strategy can be as much about When as What

Two Defendants, Two Trials

As followers of The Jury Box Blog know, I have been blogging and tweeting regularly about the trials of Michael and Carolyn Riley, who were both accused of murdering their four-year-old daughter, Rebecca, by administering to her dangerously high doses of ADHD medicine, and then refusing to seek medical attention when she fell deathly ill.

Originally, the pair was scheduled to be tried together. Shortly before jury selection was scheduled to begin, defense counsel made a motion for separate trials, on the grounds that each was likely to implicate the other in mounting a defense. The district attorney did not object and the judge granted the request, recognizing the potential conflict of interest.

The district attorney was then faced with a new set of tasks. Rather than convincing one jury that the couple acted in concert, he had to convince one jury that Carolyn was responsible and then a completely different jury that Michael was responsible.

Who should go first?

Facing the prospect of successive trials, the DA had at his disposal one strategic lever. He got to decide the order in which the defendants would be tried. Before reading further, consider what you would have done? Who goes first?

The DA decided to try Carolyn first, followed by Michael. I think this was a wise strategy (and not just because it worked). At the time, I remember thinking how shrewd this was. Here's why:

Despite best efforts to select jurors in the second trial who are not informed about what happened in the first trial, it is impossible to do so with any confidence. Therefore, the DA had to think about the consequences of the first verdict on the second trial. The first step in the process is to consider the relative culpabilities of the two defendants.

Carolyn Riley is something of an enigma. She seems emotionally detached and not especially bright. There were times during recorded interviews when she didn't seem to really understand what was going on. While Carolyn certainly was not as caring towards her children as one would have hoped, she did not seem to have the mean streak that characterized Michael's personality. In many ways, she seemed to be in fear of her husband. Michael Riley had even been forced by court order to leave their family home at a previous location.

While it might have been a long-shot, it was not out of the question for Carolyn's defense team to mount an insanity defense. Who knows whether her kids were actually mentally ill in any way, but Carolyn clearly had some serious cognitive and emotional problems. So, while Carolyn seems to have actually performed more physical acts that contributed to Rebecca's death, she cut a more sympathetic figure than did her husband, Michael.

Consequences of First Trial on Second Jury

As a result of these factors, it seemed to be a safer bet to secure a conviction against Michael than against Carolyn. With this in mind, it definitely made sense to try Carolyn first. Consider the possible outcomes of Carolyn's trial. If she had been found not-guilty, the jury in Michael's trial would have felt particularly compelled to hold someone responsible for the senseless tragedy of Rebecca's death. If Carolyn had been found guilty of some lesser offense (as she was, in the end), the jury could certainly find room to decide that Michael was even more at fault. If Carolyn had been found guilty of first-degree murder, Michael's jury might have reasoned that he was at least as responsible and that fairness required the same verdict for him. So, trying Carolyn first would not interfere with the prosecution of Michael and might even help the case.

On the other hand, trying Michael first might have posed some problems for the prosecution against Carolyn. Had Michael been found not-guilty, Carolyn's jury would have likely considered it completely unfair to convict her of something for which her abusive husband got off scot-free. This dynamic pops up a lot in criminal cases. When an accomplice turns state's evidence and gets a cushy deal, a jury is sometimes reluctant to convict the defendant of anything too serious, on the grounds that the outcomes for the two are unfairly disparate. Jurors often don't even realize that they are applying such a "relative justice" metric.

Even if Michael Riley were tried first and convicted, Carolyn's trial team would play up the degree of dominance he exerted over the family. A juror who was looking for a reason to show mercy to Carolyn could seize on Michael's conviction as justification for leniency with respect to Carolyn. Since the "real bad guy" has already been convicted and Rebecca's murder will not go unpunished, a juror would be able to more easily justify (to herself and fellow jurors) going easy on Carolyn.

Applying Lessons Learned

It is, of course, easy to look brilliant playing Monday morning quarterback. The DA did, in fact, try Carolyn first. The defense never raised the issue of Carolyn's own mental state. The Commonwealth secured a conviction on Second Degree Murder. The subsequent trial of Michael Riley was quite unremarkable, relying on similar tactics as had been used unsuccessfully in Carolyn's trial. The two main defense tactics were to contest the Coroner's conclusion that Rebecca died from the drug overdose, rather than the pneumonia from which she was suffering, and pinning as much blame as possible on the Tufts staff psychologist who had prescribed Rebecca's medicine without conducting a thorough evaluation of the child. The major flaw in this approach was its failure to address the severe neglect of Rebecca in her final hours, as she begged for help while dying in her own home. At some level, I don't think the jurors cared as much about what killed her as they did about how her parents just let her die because they couldn't be bothered to get her medical care.

The outcomes of these cases, however, were far from a certainty. The DA did a good job, including the decision to try the defendants in the strategically sensible order. There is an important lesson here. Procedural decisions can have important strategic consequences. They should not be made lightly, or based solely on convenience.

When things go wrong with a pharmaceutical, it often triggers a whole series of lawsuits. A plaintiffs' attorney might have several cases against the same company. In addition to deciding on the best venue for bringing the suits, the lawyer should also think hard about the order in which she wants to bring the cases.

There is a high-profile case developing up here in Massachusetts, involving a high school student who hung herself after prolonged bullying by classmates. Criminal charges have been filed against nine different students, some of whom are charged as adults. The DA will have an interesting dilemma with respect to the order in which to prosecute these cases. Not all of the defendants are charged with the same crimes (a couple of boys are charged with statutory rape) and they seemed to have directed varying degrees of hostility towards the victim. It will be interesting to see the order in which the DA decides to proceed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Heat, Humidity and Trial Consulting: What Services Lawyers Use Where

What we've learned so far

To review, I posted a short survey about trial and graphics consultant usage by trial attorneys. I encourage those who have not yet taken the survey to check it out here. In my previous two posts (Post 1, Post 2), I reviewed some general trends in the data. While the number of respondents (42) precludes any concrete conclusions, the data are at least suggestive.

More experienced attorneys were more likely to report having used trial consulting and graphics consulting services at some point in their careers. This is not surprising since a lawyer who has tried a large number of cases is likely to have run across at least one along the way that warranted the hiring of a jury expert or graphics professional. In addition, litigants in high-stakes cases, where the hiring of outside consultants seems most likely, typically choose to place their cases in the hands of experienced litigators. Similarly, large firms generally assign their largest cases to their most experienced lawyers.

The second major finding is that civil defense attorneys are more likely to hire trial and graphics consultants than are their colleagues who handle plaintiffs' cases. Many of the criminal defense attorneys who participated in the survey reported having used a trial consultant, but this result is likely skewed by the large number of them who had taken advantage of my Pro Bono services. Many fewer of them reported having employed a graphics consultant.

Who Wants What When?

I was not surprised that civil defense attorneys were the primary consumers of trial consulting services. They typically have an insurance company bankrolling litigation and are more likely to have corporate clients. So, the deep-pocket, repeat-player litigants tend to be on the defense side of the ledger. 

I also expected to find that civil defense attorneys used a different mix of trial consulting services than did their plaintiff counterparts. This was not born out by the data. Consider the following graph. You can click on any graph to view it much larger.

Because civil defense attorneys make up such a large fraction of my sample, these absolute numbers are a bit deceiving. To correct for this, I converted these data into percentage of the relevant sample. The reconfigured graph is below.

Those plaintiff attorneys who reported using trial consulting services were just as likely to report running mock trials (a big ticket item) as were civil defense attorneys. One possibility is that once the stakes cross a critical threshold, a plaintiff attorney thinks just like a defense lawyer. That is, there is an "all or nothing" mentality to trial consultant usage. The other possibility is that many plaintiffs' attorneys are unaware that trial consultants provide a suite of inexpensive services, as well as conducting large pre-trial research projects. That is, a plaintiff attorney might know that she can hire a consultant to run a mock trial for $30,000, but she might not know that she can hire one to help draft voir dire questions for $1,000. This is a question for further study.

Note the frequent usage of both case evaluation and jury selection services by criminal defense attorneys. This is, once again, the product of this category of respondents being dominated by attorneys who have received pro bono assistance from me, which has taken the form of case evaluations and jury selection help. It remains an open question whether these are the services most often employed by criminal defense attorneys more generally.

Where is all the action?

When breaking the sample into regions, things got a bit dicey. With only a few dozen lawyers completing the survey, it was simply not possible to sensibly explore which regions' litigators used precisely which services. I did look into using only civil defense attorneys to investigate regional differences, but what few trends emerged mirrored those present in the full sample. I illustrate below trial and graphic consultant usage by region, without attention paid to specific services.

In considering these graphs, it is important to keep in mind the mix of attorneys represented in each region. The West, Mideast and South regions are comprised of 1/2 to 2/3 civil defense attorneys. The New England region sample is dominated by criminal defense attorneys and only contains two civil defense attorneys. The Midwest sample is entirely civl defense attorneys.

With all these caveats, are there any comparisons to be made, at all? Well, it is instructive to look at the responses of attorneys in the Mideast and South regions. The sample sizes are comparable, as are the distributions across legal specialties. Note, however, how much more likely a lawyer from the Mideast region is to report that she had never used either a trial or graphics consultant. There is one young lawyer from New York who reported extremely high usage rates for both trial and graphics services, as well as a strange mix of case types. If one drops this observation as unreliable, the differences between the two regions become even more pronounced.

Anecdotally, I know Florida, Georgia and Texas to be hotbeds of trial consultant activity. There are, however, several trial consulting firms with offices in the tri-state region (near New York City). As such, I am a bit surprised by these dramatic differences.

What next?

I designed this little survey to gather some preliminary information and motivate further study. I think that it has served to accomplish that task. I know that the Research Committee of the American Society of Trial Consultants has plans to conduct a broader and deeper study of these issues in the near future. To that end, if you have suggestions for questions to ask, lawyers groups to approach for participation or groups that would be interested in the results, please let me know. I will forward along all correspondence to the Research Committee.

While a data dude at heart, I know the value of qualitative research, too. So, if you have any questions about this survey or comments about my analysis, please do get in touch. Tell me your story. Share your concerns.

In the meantime, I will leave the survey open for further respondents. If I get enough additional data, I'll post an update here on my blog.

To those of you who took the time to complete the survey, "Thanks very much for your help."


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Different Strokes for Different Folks: Consultant Usage varies by specialty and experience

Digging Deeper in the Data

In my last post, I reviewed some general trends in the data from my survey of trial and graphics consultant usage by trial attorneys. As I mentioned in the last post, the survey is completely confidential and only takes about 2 minutes to fill out. Several lawyers responded to my invitation and followed this link to participate in the survey. As such, the data I review today includes a few more observations. The more the merrier, so please take the survey if you have not yet done so!

In perusing the data, I noticed a few interesting trends. These relate to how long a respondent has been practicing law, what kind of cases she handles and where her office is located. I now turn to some of these trends.

Youth vs. Experience

One might expect that young lawyers would be more likely to hire trial and graphics consultants because these folks have grown up in the "high-tech" era. Everything in their lives has been accompanied by fancy graphics and animation. These young lawyers also went to law school after the adoption of the interdisciplinary approach to legal education. A lawyer under 50 years of age is more likely to have been taught by dual-degree professors and might, therefore, have a greater appreciation for the value of psychology and other social sciences in litigation.

As illustrated in the graphs below, this expectation is not born out in the data.

Trial Consultant Usage by Attorneys
More than 15 years experience    Less than 15 years Experience

Graphics Consultant Usage by Attorneys
More than 15 years Experience       Less than 15 years Experience

Trial lawyers with more than 15 years of experience were much more likely to report having employed a trial consultant or graphics consultant than their younger colleagues. So, what do we make of these results?

I think that there are a few factors at work here. First of all, a more experienced litigator will have handled a larger number of cases. As such, she is more likely to have come across some case along the way that seemed to require the expertise of an outside consultant, with respect to either jury or graphics issues.

Second, more experienced litigators tend to handle the higher stakes cases. This is both because litigants with a lot on the line seek out experienced litigators and because large firms assign their highest stakes cases to their most experienced lawyers. These high stakes cases are the ones for which lawyers see the most justification for incurring the expense of a trial or graphics consultant.

Exactly one respondent indicated that she uses a trial consultant in more than half of her cases. She is also the one lawyer who said she uses a graphics consultant more than half the time. This litigator has been practicing for less than five years, supporting, at least anecdotally, the "new breed of lawyer" hypothesis.

Cost Conscious Courtroom Counsellors

In the previous section, I raised for the first time the influence clients can have on their attorneys' trial strategy decisions. The survey sample is made up almost entirely of three kinds of trial lawyers, with different kinds of clients. More than half of the respondents handle predominantly civil defense cases. The remainder is roughly evenly divided between plaintiffs' attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. The differences in reported trial and graphics consultant usage among these three groups is quite remarkable.

Trial Consultant Usage by Attorneys by Primary Practice Area
Civil Defense         Civil Plaintiff           Criminal Defense

Civil defense attorneys are very often hired by insurance companies, who are the ultimate deep-pocket, repeat players in the judicial system. Handling thousands of trials annually, insurance company risk managers understand the value of pretrial research, witness preparation and well-designed jury selection strategy. A litigator might not be inclined to reach out to a consultant for advice, figuring that she has all the tools she needs to win a case. When an insurance company claims supervisor tells that litigator to run a focus group study, she does as she is told. From a personal perspective, I know that many civil defense attorneys call me because an insurance company has told them to "get your jury guy on the phone and set up a mock trial." Under such an arrangement, the litigator incurs none of the cost associated with hiring a consultant.

By contrast, most plaintiffs' attorneys reported having never used a trial consultant. This should not be surprising, given that their clients tend to have less money to work with. In addition, many plaintiffs, having never been involved in a trial before, have unrealistic expectations about the cost of litigation. A plaintiff attorney is under enormous pressure to keep costs down. The financial situation facing a plaintiff attorney tends to differ from that of the defense attorney on the other side of the aisle. Many plaintiffs' attorneys are solo practitioners or members of very small firms, handling mostly small cases. When a high stakes case does come along, such an attorney faces severe cash flow problems financing the litigation. While such a lawyer might very much want to hire a trial or graphics consultant, she might simply not have access to the funds to do so. I know that many of us in the trial consulting community have attempted to implement creative fee structures to make our services more available to plaintiffs' attorneys.

The graph representing trial consulting usage by criminal defense attorneys is probably quite misleading. I head the New England Team of the pro bono initiative of the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC). In this capacity, I have been running free clinics for criminal defense attorneys here in Massachusetts. I know that 3 of the 5 criminal defense lawyers who report having used a trial consultant are folks I have personally helped as part of this pro bono initiative. I would need a much larger, and geographically diverse, sample to know how common it is for criminal defense attorneys to use trial consultants.

By comparison, the data on graphics consultant usage should be more reliable.

Graphics Consultant Usage by Attorneys by Primary Practice Area

Civil Defense            Civil Plaintiff          Criminal Defense

The discrepancy between civil plaintiff and defense attorney resource usage is even more pronounced with respect to graphics consulting. A quarter of civil defense attorneys reported hiring a graphics consultant for more than 20% of their cases. By contrast, three-quarters of plaintiffs' lawyers report never having hired anyone to design or produce courtroom graphics.

The one young lawyer, who indicated that she uses trial and graphics consultants in more than half of her cases, handles both criminal and civil defense cases.

From What to Where

We have now discovered differences in consultant usage among lawyers who handle different types of cases. Civil defense lawyers make much more use of trial consultants and graphics consultants than do their less well financed colleagues. We also know that in some areas of tort law, the defense wins 90% of jury trials. It would be purely speculative to connect this success rate with use of trial and graphics consulting services, but it is suggestive enough to warrant further study.

Fortunately, with the exception of criminal defense attorneys, the lawyers who completed this survey are distributed throughout the country. This will provide me an opportunity to explore whether there are regional variations in trial and graphics consulting usage. I will have to be mindful, however, of the trends I have uncovered with respect to seniority and practice area. If the lawyers in one region seem to hire a lot of graphics consultants, I will need to make sure that it is not simply because they are all civil defense attorneys.

Finally, I wish to explore whether there are any systematic variations in the types of services for which attorneys hire consultants. Is it mostly for jury selection in one region and mock trials in another? Do certain types of attorneys hire consultants to help with witness preparation more than others? I will address these questions, along with geographic variations, in my next post.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Trial Consultant Usage All Over the Map

The Survey at a Glance

Several weeks ago, I was in conversation with a colleague about the different approaches taken by various lawyers with respect to using trial consulting services. Some lawyers don't see any use for our expertise, or believe that their clients just can't afford to use us. Some lawyers employ the occasional consultant to run jury research, but really want a project manager more than an expert in jury behavior. There are many lawyers who will call in a trial consultant for the occasional case when she experiences uncertainty regarding a particular jury issue. Finally, there are a handful of lawyers who work with a trial consultant on virtually every case, finding their expertise to be well-worth the investment.

I commented, rather off-handedly, that I thought there were probably lots of regional differences. I think that differences in procedural rules (e.g. attorney conducted voir dire, ad damnum usage) and legal culture result in their being jurisdictions where litigators make great use of trial consulting services and others where attorneys rarely hire trial consultants.

I soon realized that this was a testable hypothesis. So, I went off to and crafted a short survey to investigate which litigators hire trial consultants (and courtroom graphics consultants) and which ones don't. I included questions about how long each respondent has been a lawyer, what kind of cases she handles, and where her office is located.

The survey is still live and I will be analyzing the data long into the future. So, if you are a trial lawyer, and you have not yet filled out the survey, please do so here. It only takes about 2 minutes and it is completely anonymous.

Spreading the Word

As many of you know, I am extremely active on LinkedIn. I posted a notice about the survey as a discussion on many of the groups to which I belong. I also tweeted an invitation to participate on several occasions. Finally, I sent out an email to everyone on my professional distribution list (formerly used for my newsletter, before it became this blog). I would conservatively estimate that at least one invitation to participate was seen by over 500 litigators.

Well, I wasn't offering to pay respondents. I wasn't raffling off an iPod or a timeshare in Maui. Lawyers are used to billing clients for every 6 minutes of their time and they are extremely sensitive to concerns about online privacy. So, the response rate was not great.

As of today, 37 people have completed the survey. Of these, 5 indicated that they were not lawyers (although a few might work for law firms in some other capacity). 28 of the respondents indicated that they heard about the survey on LinkedIn. 8 found out through email, and 1 via Twitter. Needless to say, any conclusions to be drawn from such a small sample will be speculative in nature. I do hope, however, that the results will give us something to build upon in the future.

Preliminary Results: Trial Consulting

I was careful in the survey to differentiate between "Trial Consulting" services, which deal with the social psychology of jury behavior (jury selection, witness preparation, focus group studies, etc.) and "Trial Graphics" services, which include illustrations and animations for courtroom use. Here is a graph illustrating the frequency with which survey respondents employ "Trial Consulting" services, in terms of percentage of cases.

Trial Consulting Service Usage: Full Sample

As you can see from the figure, very few attorneys indicated that they used trial consultants for more than 20% of their cases. The interesting distinction here seems to be between those litigators who sometimes use trial consultants and those that never do. For my sample, approximately 60% of respondents indicated they had ever used a trial consultant. 

There are a couple of reasons to be skeptical of these numbers. First, I would expect that participating in the survey would be more interesting to those lawyers with some familiarity with trial consulting. As such, I thought that most of the respondents would be lawyers who had worked with trial consultants in the past. Second, the publication of the survey was heavily skewed towards people who know me in some capacity. Of those, I would expect that my clients would be particularly inclined to help me out by filling out the survey. (Based on zip codes and other survey responses, I am fairly sure that about a half-dozen respondents are, in fact, clients of mine.) In light of these factors, I believe that these results probably overestimate trial consultant usage in the general population.

I am located in Massachusetts and most of my clients are from New England. This is reflected in the large number of respondents from this region (9). That said, it is gratifying to see that the remainder of the respondents come from all over the United States. I will be discussing regional variations in the data in my next post.

Preliminary Results: Graphics Consulting

I am what I refer to as a "behavioral" trial consultant. While I advise clients on the kinds of exhibits they might employ at trial, and evaluate the utility of the graphs and illustrations they already have, I do not provide trial graphics services. As such, the responses with respect to graphics consulting are probably less skewed by the participation of my own clients. The graph below shows graphics consulting usage for the complete sample.

Graphics Consulting Service Usage: Full Sample

About half of the survey's respondents have used a graphics consultant for at least one case. I think that most of us would expect trial graphics to be used more frequently than trial consulting. The discrepancy between this expectation and my data undoubtedly arises from the participation of many of my clients. Several of these attorneys, especially those doing criminal defense work, have benefitted from my active pro bono practice. They have not had similar access to affordable trial graphics assistance.

Do the Same Lawyers use Both Services?

As I mention above, there is reason to believe that at least a handful of attorneys would make use of trial consulting services, but not graphics consulting ones. Is this a common occurrence? The graph below answers this question.

Joint Usage of Trial and Graphics Consulting Services

As a general rule, lawyers either use litigation consulting services of both types, or they don't use either. Only a few litigators reported using graphics consultants but not trial consultants. I find this result a bit surprising. While I did not ask respondents about the size of their firms, I would expect that this sample is heavily weighted towards small and mid-sized firms, whose attorneys tend to be heavier users of LinkedIn. Lawyers from large firms (many hundreds of lawyers) are unlikely to have found their way to my survey. Such firms handle huge IP and business litigation cases, in which courtroom exhibits are sophisticated and plentiful. The underrepresentation of such litigators from my sample have certainly affected the nature of my results.

Questions to be Explored

These preliminary results are certainly interesting. We have responses from many attorneys who have used a trial or graphics consultant to help with jury trials. Who are they? What kind of work do they do? Where do they practice? These are the more nuanced questions that I will be addressing in my next two posts.

In addition to surveying experience with consultants, I asked respondents about which kinds of services they had hired consultants to perform. I provided an extensive list, including jury selection, witness preparation, illustrations, animations and more. I will explore in a future post trends in the data, with respect to which trial lawyers made use of which services.

So, stay tuned! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

And remember, it's not too late to contribute your own experience to the data. Take the survey here.