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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Identifying Potential Leaders Critical to Jury Selection

Leaders become forepersons and forepersons control deliberations

In the most recent issue of The Jury Expert, the excellent online journal of jury behavior, published by the American Society of Trial Consultants, Barbara Bushell has contributed a very nice piece on how "leaders" affect jury deliberations and verdict choice.

Barbara begins by identifying some of the common characteristics of jury leaders (high status jobs, more formal attire, perceived expertise, etc.) and then discusses the kinds of behaviors engaged in by such people that often get them chosen as jury forepersons. I won't spend much time on these points here, but I recommend that you read the article. Among other things, Barbara reviews (and cites) some of the important research articles from which we have learned so much about leadership on juries.

What I find particularly salient is how leaders can exercise control over jury deliberations, especially when handed the title of "foreperson." Barbara mentions several of the levers at the foreperson's disposal. A foreperson controls the floor, determining who can speak when. She calls for votes when she thinks the time is most appropriate -- perhaps when she suspects she has a majority of support. The foreperson often controls whether the deliberation will be evidence-driven or verdict-driven (something I have discussed previously in The Jury Box), with all of the attending consequences of the two modes. Barbara also cites several studies confirming the influence of a foreperson's private evaluation of compensatory damages on the final award chosen by the jury.

Not All Leaders are Created Equal

Barbara goes on to make a distinction between instrumental leaders and emotional leaders, something I hadn't really thought much about before. An instrumental leader is someone who is respected and/or looked up to for a particular skill or attribute regarded as important to the case. It might be someone who takes thorough notes, or someone who has served on several juries before. Of course, jurors with case-specific expertise are often perceived as instrumental leaders.

An emotional leader, however, is someone who helps the jurors get through the process. She might be the queen of positive reinforcement, or the first to recommend a compromise that everyone can live with. Such a leader is seen as a positive influence on the deliberations, but she may not be especially knowledgeable or astute.

I think this distinction between leadership types can be quite important. An instrumental leader is more likely to have an agenda. Her influence is likely to be unidirectional. On the other hand, an emotional leader is more likely to lead the jury towards moderation.

A couple more points about leaders

I would recommend that all of you read Barbara's article. You might even find yourself consulting some of the empirical studies directly. I want to take just a little time here to add a couple of items not covered in the Jury Expert piece.

The first is that leaders (especially instrumental ones) are also likely to be unyielding in their opinions about the correct verdict. As I have written about in a couple of my recent posts, juries rarely reach unanimous consensus, even in those cases where they render unanimous verdicts. This means that some jurors have compromised their true opinions about the case to vote with everyone else (conforming dissenters). The folks most likely to be leaders are not going to be those vote-switching jurors. This means that it is especially important during jury selection to figure out not only whether a prospective juror is likely to perceive your case sympathetically, but also whether she is a stick-to-her-guns leader type or a wishy-washy follower type. You have a limited number of peremptory challenges. Your case can probably survive a non-supporter who doesn't make waves. Save your challenges for the obvious leaders, whenever you are concerned about which way they will lead.

My final point has to do with the methods by which juries vote. The jury foreperson will almost certainly control this procedural item. Since a jury is not instructed on how to take votes, the foreperson really is free to conduct voting however she pleases. Will the foreperson call for a secret ballot? Perhaps she'll go around the table. Maybe she's left-handed and will go around the table in the other direction! A strong-willed foreperson might suggest a verdict and challenge anyone to disagree (equivalent to calling for unanimous consent). I have written previously about the strategic consequences of these various types of jury voting. Adding this concern to the others raised by Barbara Bushell in her article, it really is critical that likely leaders on the jury be on your side of the ledger.

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