By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Over the weekend I gave a presentation at a law firm retreat in Palm Springs. The presentation drew from a recent mock trial in an insurance dispute and the deliberation video clips I was playing could've been seen as a parade of mistakes: jurors ignoring instructions, flagrantly applying their own experience and knowledge, and framing the dispute within their own terms instead of the frame provided by the presenting attorneys. After about an hour of this, one attorney in the audience spoke out: "Do you still," he asked, "have faith in a jury to deliver a good verdict?" In response I said, "Yes, I do," not only in reaction to current political questions over whether the jury can do the job, but also based on a generation or more of social science research summarized and advanced in an article currently on my nightstand. In short, even when we might disagree with the product that a given jury hands down in the form of a verdict, jurors are following a process that is valid, valuable, and to at least some extent, predictable.
The article on my nightstand was written by two communications professors from University of Colorado and Pennsylvania State University (Sprain & Gastil, 2013). They reviewed the literature on what it means to deliberate and conducted their own study focusing on the survey responses provided by more than a thousand jurors post-trial. From that they developed an interpretation of the 'rules' jurors apply when trying to come to a verdict. The article shares a set of simple but important findings and conclusions that should not only increase our faith in the jury, but should also inform our practice when dealing with jurors. This post takes a look at the study and spotlights four of the conclusions that should matter most to the practicing litigator.