Thursday, October 22, 2009

Of anthropomorphism, armed citizens, and hate crimes

The Jury Expert wants you to stop and think about all manner of things, from hate crimes to the effects of gory photos. They want to teach attorneys how to identify a jury foreperson even before that person has been seated as a juror. High-quality articles on a range of issues is earning the American Society of Trial Consultant's online publication accolades and awards in legal circles.

Among current offerings worth checking out:

Identifying Leaders

An experienced jury consultant discusses how jurors pick presiding jurors and how attorneys can identify their most likely picks during voir dire and jury selection.

The impact of graphic injury photos on liability verdicts and damage awards

Over the years, the use of graphic, and at times gruesome, visual imagery in the courtroom has become commonplace. Although the use of such imagery has become the norm, the prejudicial nature of this evidence continues to be a contested issue in courtrooms across America. This paper focuses on the impact of graphic injury photographs in a civil dispute where the evidence favors a defense verdict.

Anthropomorphism in technical presentations


How can dry technical information be explained in a way that is understandable to a lay jury? An experienced graphic designer and trial consultant suggests anthropomorphism and other strategies to help jurors emotionally connect with technical data.

Will it hurt me in court? Weapons issues and fears of the legally armed citizen

An examination of how gender of juror, gender of shooter and type of weapon used interact to modify verdict and sentencing, with responses from two experienced trial consultants.

Hate crimes and revealing motivation through racial slurs

I must admit, I found the implications of this article by jury consultants Gregory S. Parks and Shayne Jones a little troubling. The authors deconstruct the 'hip-hop culture' defense used by Nicholas "Fat Nick" Minucci, a white man who used the word "nigger" during a 2005 baseball-bat assault on a black man. Charged with a hate crime, Minucci called two expert witnesses, music producer Gary Jenkins and Rhodes scholar and Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy, author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.

Parks and Jones take issue with the expert witnesses' testimony that the term "nigger" is a nuanced word that can no longer be assumed to be driven by racial animus. Minucci is something of a straw man, as he was fairly obviously a racist vigilante. (He was convicted of the hate crime charge and sentenced to 15 years in prison.)

What troubled me was how the authors used Harvard scholar Mahzarin Banaji's work on implicit bias. Banaji's research suggests that, as racism becomes less acceptable, it is going underground; many white people hold racist attitudes that they are not even aware of. (As I blogged about last year, Banaji has testified as an expert witness, on the topic of unconscious racial bias among jurors.) The implication of their argument is that it is appropriate to impose additional punishment via hate crimes enhancements even if the defendant is not consciously acting due to a biased motivation. When I conducted research on the motivations of hate crime offenders, I came to understand that assailants' motivations are often more complex and multifaceted than a simple sound byte like "hate crime" can convey. The idea of using biases that people are not even aware of as evidence against them is a little too Orwellian for me. It's an interesting article, nonetheless.

For a nice essay on the Minucci case, see law professor Patricia Williams' Borrowed Bodies: Diary of a mad law professor, in the Nation magazine.

1 comment:

  1. I just completed a major piece of research as part of my masters program in forensic psychology, examining gruesome evidence and jury decision making in a criminal trial.

    There is a small body of research that has shown an effect of gruesome photo's on jury decision making and an equal body of research showing null effects. The difference is in the experimental design. Gruesome photo's vs no photo's produces an effect. But if you control for the amount of visual evidence, eg, gruesome versus neutral photo's, there is no effect of gruesome evidence.

    My own research used a gruesome vs neutral phot design and found no effect of gruesome evidence. However, processing differences emerged. How jurors' process evidence and attitudinal differences between mock jurors' increased conviction rates, lowered conviction thresholds and the prosecution evidence was rated differently.

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