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The Human Factor: Understanding Jury Psychology in Litigation

Jury duty.

The Human Factor: Understanding Jury Psychology in Litigation

While building a case, learning about the legal system, or preparing to go to trial from any point of view, you hear a lot regarding the various laws and procedures you have to abide by, how to build an argument, and other litigation basics. However, one crucial bit that many people forget about is the psychology of the jury.


Jury psychology is probably one of the most important parts of litigation to understand. After all, it’s the jury that gets to decide how a trial goes. The judge largely weighs the jury’s decision against relevant legal precedents to determine a suitable outcome for the jury’s decision.


If you don’t understand jury psychology, you’re at a major disadvantage. So, we’re going to go in-depth and cover the details for you.


Let’s get started.


What is Jury Psychology?


In a general sense, jury psychology is the way each member of a jury is going to receive information, interpret it, and act on it. It’s the same as how you’d define anyone else’s psychological state, but since you’re actively trying to persuade a jury, and that jury is meticulously screened and then instructed to function in a certain way, this is far more important than wondering how your local grocery clerk thinks when you hand them all pennies.


Why is Jury Psychology Important?


Jury psychology is such a pivotal part of any case because it directly impacts whether your approach to the case is going to be successful or not. If you don’t present your argument, and all relevant evidence, in a way that meshes well with the jury’s natural way of thinking, it can fall flat, or it can outright destroy your chances.


Aren’t There Precautions Taken to Make Juries Unbiased?


You’re probably wondering why each individual on the jury’s psychological traits matters in such an important situation as a trial. Shouldn’t the legal system have precautions in place to root out personal biases, cognitive issues, and more?


Well, yes. There does have to be a standard of professionalism among all jurors for the system to work, and the legal system is fully aware of that. There are precautions in place that are designed to ensure the jury functions in a manner according to the law.


First, there’s the psychological exam performed on potential jury members during the selection phase. The entities in charge of selecting members of the jury don’t just pick random names and send everyone else back home after they get their notice to appear. They run each potential participant through a brief psychological exam to weed out individuals who have biases relevant to the case, poor decision-making skills, cognitive issues, and more to help ensure the trial is fair.


Then, there’s the long list of rules that jury members are informed of and forced to follow that help bring jury members into the right state of mind.


However, that does not mean that jury psychology doesn’t change the outcome of a case. In fact, it still greatly affects practically every case.


A jury is still comprised of normal human beings, from all walks of life, with their own views of the world around them. No amount of instruction, psychological screening, or lawmaking is going to change that.


As such, you still have heated debates regarding the evidence and the greyer parts of a case, and you need to be able to understand how the jury will interpret various presentations of the same information.


How Jury Psychology Affects Litigation: Pre-Trial


Before you can understand jury psychology, you need to understand what types of people the court system looks for, and the specific ways that the jury is manipulated by the court to handle the process in a legal and suitable manner.


We’ve talked about these concepts in the previous section, but we need to go over them in better detail so you know who you’re dealing with.


Psychological Screening:


An average citizen, from any walk of life, is picked from the public pool at random and given a notice to appear in court. This comes from ID renewal records, voter registration, etc. Basically, unless you’re living with no identity in the middle of the woods, it’s possible for you to get called in for jury duty.


The people called in for jury selection are potential jurors. Next, they’re screened psychologically. This isn’t an in-depth process that takes days or weeks per person. Instead, a quiz is handed out and interviews might be conducted.


Those two methods are used to determine if the potential juror is racist, classist, sexist, biased toward people from certain groups, and other things that obviously can’t be tolerated in a fair and just judicial system. After all, if someone is classist, and the case is between a homeless guy and the owner of a mega-corporation, their bias will come into play one way or another.


Past experiences that might influence decision-making choices, disabilities that influence one’s ability to think critically, follow instructions, or understand the information presented to them, and other factors are also determined.


Anyone who might influence the case based on a bias or inability to participate gets sent home.



This is useful because you don’t have to worry as much about your or your client’s race, class, sex, and other things being a deciding factor in the case. For the most part, you can expect fair judgment

Jury psychology.

Restricting Behaviors, Information Usage, and Opportunities for Corruption:


Next, once the jury is selected, the jury is actually put under some rigorous rulesets that help guide their psychological state toward a more fair method of operation.


Jury members are prevented from talking about the case and giving out information that isn’t public, as well as gaining information from outside sources such as their family members’ opinions on the case.


They’re also often restricted from watching, reading, or listening to any news or social media reports covering the case. This is to prevent outside opinions that are not looking at the evidence or being held to moral standards from influencing the jury’s decisions.


Jury members will also be forced to exclude certain pieces of evidence, public statements, and more from their decision-making process, and they will be required to present why they’re coming to a certain conclusion. So, hanging onto information that is supposed to be discarded is more difficult.


This does influence how the jury looks at things. It isolates the jury into itself, and hopefully, keeps them going solely off what is presented in court and accepted by the court; making it easier to know what’s going on in their heads.


What are the Psychology Concepts Used to Determine Possible Jurors?


The screening efforts we mentioned are broken down into three different categories that are all used to determine jury selection. These are psychology concepts used in practically all fields of psychology, and they don’t necessarily differ just because they’re being used in the legal field.


These are broken into the person’s cognitive psychology, or how aware they are and capable of critically thinking and making good decisions, social psychology, which deals with how group behaviors impact their psychology, and their own unique differences such as the biases that we already talked about heavily earlier on.


Social psychology is a major concern because juries are groups. People tend to act differently in groups. For example, someone might be very open to new information, but in a group, they might simply give in to whatever the group wants. In a jury, just one person can mean the difference between an innocent party going free or being wrongfully imprisoned. So, ensuring everyone is capable of voicing their opinions is crucial.


Ways the Jury Can Differ From Expectations


After reading all that, you probably think you’re dealing with a fairly robotic jury that can’t be persuaded by anything other than cold-hard facts. Well, that’s not the case, either.


As we said earlier, jury members are human, and while lying under oath or just generally trying to get away with manipulating the jury probably won’t work, the jury can be persuaded to look at the circumstances and recommend lighter sentences or repercussions, interpret the evidence differently, etc.


We’ll use an extreme example to highlight this. Let’s say that an 80-year-old man shot someone who entered their home without permission, but they didn’t follow all self-defense procedures, and accidentally shot the person in the back.


At first glance, the case is said and done. The intruder was leaving, and the homeowner did more than the law believes they should have. It’s a bad situation.


However, by properly presenting an argument, and highlighting how the homeowner was old, frightened, and placed in a completely unacceptable situation of life or death, the homeowner might be let go or given a far lighter sentence than someone who was considered more physically capable and just pulled the trigger, anyway.


The human element, and society’s general ability to look at things reasonably, do come into play.


How to Work Jury Psychology into Your Argument


Knowing jury psychology, what the jury is supposed to do, and how the jury can depart from that a bit, provides you with a major advantage in the courtroom. Manipulating the jury and being dishonest is safeguarded by our judicial system, so you won’t get any tips on that here, but you can avoid spoiling your own case by rubbing the jury the wrong way.


One of the key points is to understand that the jury is going to be working off its guidelines for the most part. People tend to show up for jury duty, have no reason to genuinely put their best effort in, and simply do what they’re instructed to do; listen to evidence and come to a conclusion.


Tailor Your Argument for Emotional Appeal:


One of the primary ways to work with a jury’s psychology is to look at the argument and find where you can appeal to the jury’s natural emotions while maintaining honesty and integrity. This does not mean that witnesses take the stand crying, speaking dramatically, and generally putting on a show, unless that’s truly how they feel. However, it can mean changing wording, finding new ways to illustrate a statement that shows it as an emotional situation, etc.


Understand the Jury’s Main Demographic:


When the legal system’s screening doesn’t weed out every little bias, you can more or less get a good picture of what the jury truly thinks by weighing the case against the demographic.


For example, if you’re on the defense as a well-off business owner and a landlord in a largely anti-corporate area with jury members pulled from the local college-aged crowd, you can understand that you’ll likely have a harder time making your points, and it might come down to just flat-out proving innocence in a concrete way.


You have to look at the nature of the case and the most likely nature of the jury, and then walk on eggshells to ensure you don’t feed into biases that can negatively impact their opinion.


Avoiding The Jury’s Natural Fear Response:


The jury has a very difficult job, and no one on it signed up to do it. They were pulled in from their day-to-day lives to participate. That’s important to remember.


The jury is proven to be predisposed to leaving the trial in fear. Especially during extremely difficult cases or cases featuring people who don’t have the best reputations.


Triggering that fear response can make you or your client seem like a threat. That does not work in your favor.


Knowing that this psychological response exists, it’s best to be presented as just a normal person on trial attempting to prove their innocence or remorse. Aggressive, threatening, arguments and statements can trigger a natural fear response that makes them want to keep the offender as far away from them as possible.


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