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Psychology of Jury Selection

Trial lawyers place a great deal of emphasis on the selection process of jurors, and assume that psychological models enable them to identify potential jurors favorable to their cases. Both quantitative and qualitative methods are used to develop these models based on data gathered from mock trials and focus groups.  They are designed to predict a juror’s preexisting bias.  They focus on socio-demographic variables such as gender, race, age and social class, and on personality variables such as education and general appearance. Lawyers believe that factoring these variables into a psychological model will enable them to select an ideal juror who is predisposed to accept their presentation of the case.

Psychology of Jury Selection

Despite this method of carefully planned jury selection attorneys remain unable to regularly predict verdicts based solely on the composition of a jury. This is because jurors are individuals who respond with far more complexity than presumed by the isolated variables in psychological models.  In addition, the process of assimilating information during the trial and the subsequent deliberation with other jurors creates a dynamic that brings a wide range of personality characteristics into play.

The jury is selected during a process known as voir dire, during which attorneys pose questions to potential jurors regarding their background, attitudes and beliefs.  Each attorney is allowed a limited number of peremptory challenges to eliminate a juror for no stated reason.  The attorneys are also allowed to eliminate jurors for obvious bias with a limited number of challenges for cause, to which the court must agree.  Each attorney questions a potential juror, but no cross-examination is allowed under Canadian law.  The system is designed to screen out jurors who approach the trial with preconceived ideas that may influence their judgment.  The purpose of the psychological model is to give an attorney an idea of the bias likely to be present in a prospective juror.  In practice, attorneys presume that the stereotypical bias actually exists, and attempt to expose it with pointed questions.

The assumption of the psychological model for jury selection is that the information presented at trial will be filtered through the perspective of a single personality factor.  For example, gender is presumed to affect attitudes toward certain types of crimes, with statistics indicating that women view crimes of violence more harshly than men.  This reasoning, presupposes that all women on a jury are likely to view the information presented solely on the basis of their gender experience. A defense attorney in a trial involving a man accused of a violent crime would seek to eliminate as many women as possible with peremptory challenges, while the prosecuting attorney would try to eliminate men.

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