Thursday, August 21, 2014

Courtroom Sociology

When I step into a courtroom, I can't help but scan my surroundings to understand the courtroom demographics. As I scan the room, I think about the subconscious events that are occurring based on extensive reading of various studies on courtroom interactions.

Here are a few examples of recent articles:

NYTimes article mentioned that judges with a daughter are more likely to rule in favor of women's rights. "'Having one daughter as opposed to one son,' the study found, 'is linked to an even higher 16 percent increase in the proportion of gender-related cases decided in a feminist direction.'"

Another article at HuffPost noted the pressure to plead guilty because of judicial vacancies. "Federal judicial vacancies are causing unsustainable courtroom delays, resulting in evidence going stale, witnesses dying before they can testify and, in some instances, people being pressured to plead guilty just to get out of jail faster, according to study released by the Brennan Center for Justice."

And PscyhologyToday ran an article about 'beautiful' people faring better in court. "According to a Cornell University study by Justin J. Gunnell and Stephen J. Ceci, more attractive defendants in court are less likely to be found guilty than less attractive ones. In addition, if there are money damages, then more attractive people tend to receive higher rewards. The study states: 'Information processing can proceed through two pathways, a rational one and an experiential one. The former is characterized by an emphasis on analysis, fact and logical argument, whereas the latter is characterized by emotional and personal experience.' The authors hypothesized that some jurors were more experiential than others, and that those jurors would reward attractiveness to a higher degree."

Lastly, the NYTimes offered a questionnaire for prospective jurors with questions designed by a jury consultant. The questions ask about a jury pool's employment status, age, income, volunteer activities, and teamwork preferences to name a few. Based on your answers to these questions, the questionnaire determines whether you would be selected for a particular jury in a hypothetical case. Based on my own answers, I received the following response: "You're off the hook. The defense lawyer loves you, and is very excited to have – wait, the plaintiff lawyer just struck you. Please take your belongings and report to the main jury room, so you can wait to go through this all over again on another case."

I can't help but remember these types of articles when scanning a courtroom. Does the judge have a daughter? Are there substantial courtroom delays due to vacancies? Is the defendant traditionally attractive? What is the make up of the jury pool?

While statistics may not mean much in one particular case, these types of subtexts are interesting and can offer insight into the various courtroom interactions that take place.

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