Litigation Tips Archive

Jurors’ Pre-existing Knowledge of Burdens of Proof

Due to the proliferation of television crime dramas and other media characterizations of the legal
arena, most of today’s jurors are familiar with the burden of proof in criminal cases. Magnus Research Consultants has worked on numerous criminal matters; overall, we have observed our mock jurors and other research participants taking the “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden of proof seriously during their deliberations. In addition, it appears most of the jury eligible citizens who participate in our mock trials, surveys, and focus groups have a reasonably good understanding of the reasonable doubt standard and its implications for both the prosecution and defendant in criminal cases.

On the other hand, the majority of mock jurors and other research participants do not understand there is a different standard of proof in criminal and civil cases; many of them believe the burden of proof in civil cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This erroneous belief creates considerable confusion during their deliberations. It occurs despite the fact they have been instructed on how to apply the “greater weight of the evidence” standard prior to their deliberations and are provided with the jury instructions during their deliberations. Their confusion stems from the fact that it is difficult for most people to put aside long term beliefs and opinions when they are provided with information that disconfirms their (erroneous) ways of viewing the world. The consequence of jurors’ failure to understand the standard of proof in civil cases and the resulting misapplication of the standard of proof in criminal cases often leads them to hold the plaintiff in a civil case to a much higher standard than is required. In some instances, the jurors also improperly believe the defendant has to prove his/her/its case, in much the same way as the plaintiff must prove a case. Magnus has witnessed numerous mock jurors spending a substantial amount of time discussing the plaintiff’s burden of proof during their deliberations. And, although these mistakes can be corrected when they are made within the context of a mock trial or other type of jury research, they go unnoticed and, therefore, uncorrected, in the deliberations on actual trials because there is no one other than the members of the jury who is present during their deliberations. Given the close approximation of the composition of mock jurors to the actual jurors on the cases in which we are involved, it is with certainty that we believe trial jurors become as confused about the standard of proof as the mock jurors.

Attorneys who try civil cases, particularly on behalf of plaintiffs, are cautioned to instruct the jury on the greater weight of the evidence as well as to caution them about the misapplication of the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. Failure to provide a detailed explanation regarding the burden of proof is likely to create confusion during the deliberations and lead to an unanticipated outcome in the trial.

Contact Magnus to schedule your next mock trial, on a civil or criminal case.

Juror Differences in “Red” and “Blue” Counties

In recent years it has become customary to categorize Florida residents by “red” and “blue” voting patterns. Magnus has taken this analysis one step further by examining the views of jury eligible citizens in these two types of counties. Our analysis yielded the following results:

• As expected, jurors in red counties were more likely to identify themselves as politically conservative and jurors in blue counties were more likely to identify themselves as politically liberal.

• Although jurors in both red and blue counties indicate a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant in a civil lawsuit, jurors in blue counties were less likely to do so than jurors in red counties.

• There were no statistically significant differences between jurors in red and blue counties in terms of their money orientation, with about half of the jurors indicating they are “tight with money” and half identifying themselves as “free spenders”.

The conclusion we draw from these results is that, although there are regional differences in jurors’ general attitudes, individual differences must be considered in their relationship to verdict.

Contact Magnus for more information on jurors’ attitudes.

Defendants Receive Benefit of Doubt

All of the jury eligible citizens who serve as mock jurors for Magnus complete extensive surveys prior to attorneys’ presentations of case facts. One survey question requires mock jurors to state an overall preference between plaintiffs and defendants in civil lawsuits.  Using our Venue DataLink software, we have found that, overwhelmingly, mock jurors give the benefit of the doubt to civil defendants.  While the percentage of mock jurors who give the benefit of the doubt to the defendants varies slightly depending on where they live, overall, approximately two thirds of those surveyed state that they give civil defendants the benefit of the doubt before they know anything about the case.  This preference has obvious implications for the way in which jurors view civil litigants.

Jurors’ Opinions of Health Care

Magnus Research Consultants has surveyed 473 jury eligible citizens regarding their attitudes on the quality of health care in the U.S. The 473 citizens were surveyed in conjunction with their participation as mock jurors on medical negligence cases. Of those surveyed, 67% agreed or agreed strongly that the quality of health care in this country is declining, with 33% disagreeing or disagreeing strongly with this statement. Given the current “medical malpractice crisis,” it is interesting to note that the majority of citizens are concerned they are recipients of less than excellent health care. Our research points out that media accounts of the reported medical malpractice crisis have largely overlooked these important opinions of the voting public. These opinions have obvious ramifications in the courtroom, as well as political arenas.

Contact Magnus today to find out what citizens think about your medical negligence case.

It’s All About Responsibility

Personal responsibility is a common expression that evokes strong feelings in many people. Magnus has had the opportunity to interact with thousands of jury eligible citizens over the past ten years. Personal responsibility emerges as a theme in many deliberations as jurors attempt to apportion blame among the litigants. Magnus has polled approximately 1,500 mock jurors on the issue of personal responsibility. Interestingly, 45% of mock jurors believe companies take responsibility for their actions and 45% of mock jurors believe individuals take responsibility for their actions. Given today’s climate of corporate irresponsibility, these findings are somewhat counterintuitive. Overall, jurors usually examine litigants’ actions in terms of what they would have done in a similar situation, leading them to criticize a party who has failed to take personal responsibility.

Contact Magnus today to find out jurors’ views on the important issue of personal responsibility.

Jurors’ Perceptions of Experts

Jurors have become skeptical about the role of expert witnesses and the degree to which they provide impartial testimony. Most jurors believe experts’ opinions automatically favor the side that has retained them, with plaintiffs’ experts exaggerating the seriousness of damages and defense experts minimizing them. Magnus Research Consultants have surveyed 545 jury eligible citizens regarding their opinion of expert witnesses. The majority of those surveyed (63%) agreed with the statement “Expert Witnesses are hired guns whose testimony will always favor the side that hires them.” In the hundreds of mock trials we have conducted, we often hear jurors discuss experts’ “biased” opinions and the need to decide the case based on other factors such as common sense. Overall, jurors’ suspicions of experts has a potentially damaging effect on a variety of civil cases.

Contact Magnus to learn how to increase your experts’ credibility among jurors.

Gender Issues in Jury Decisions

Gender comparisons have a long history in psychology. Of the almost 50,000 publications on gender difference, numerous studies have provided evidence for gender differences in a variety of areas while numerous studies have found no evidence of gender differences. Research studies that have specifically tested gender differences in jurors’ decision making have also yielded mixed results. Magnus Research Consultants, Inc. has developed a proprietary database, Venue DataLink®, that contains data from over 4,000 mock jurors. Although some gender differences in mock jurors’ perceptions of certain case issues were found in Venue DataLink®, for the most part, these differences are small. Over the years, Magnus’ Consultants have observed that many attorneys seem overly focused on whether men and women will view their case differently. The results of a plethora of scientific research suggests that the focus on gender differences in juror decision making is usually unwarranted. Magnus encourages our clients to focus their attention on understanding the case specific attitudes, values, and beliefs that are more valid predictors of verdict.

Contact Magnus for more information on Venue DataLink®.

A Little Knowledge About Juror Demographics…

A little knowledge about juror demographics does go a long way, but more often than not, it goes a long way in the wrong direction. When attorneys make demographically based decisions about prospective jurors during the jury selection process, stereotypes and biases can have negative effects on these decisions. Numerous social science research articles written over the past decades have revealed there is no relationship between jurors’ gender, age, income, race, ethnicity, occupation, etc. and verdict, however many attorneys persist in believing a relationship exists. This belief perseverance creates potential disaster by leading the attorney to exclude certain prospective jurors from the jury while at the same time, leaving on the panel other jurors who are actually worse for their case. If there is one fundamental principle that applies in all jury selections, it is: demographics do not predict verdict.

Contact Magnus to find out the true predictors of verdict.

Characteristics of Open Minded Jurors

Recent psychological research has focused on assessing the characteristics of open minded jurors. This research has revealed open minded jurors are:

– reflective;

– willing to consider contradictory evidence;

– tolerant of ambiguity;

– willing to consider alternative opinions and explanations; and

– have a sense of self that is not dependent on their beliefs.

Various measures of cognitive styles and intellectual development have been derived in an attempt to develop the concept of juror open mindedness. The assessment of open mindedness has obvious implications for jury selection, in that the goal of jury selection is identification of jurors who will be impartial, listen to the evidence without prejudging it based on bias or prejudice, and wait until receiving all of the evidence to form an opinion as to which side should prevail. A series of voir dire questions designed to ascertain venire members’ open mindedness should be posed to all potential jurors in every voir dire examination.

Contact Magnus for journal citations of articles measuring open mindedness in jurors.

Heuristical Decision Making

Magnus’ research reports have always contained a section titled “Heuristics” which provides a unique insight into jurors’ perceptions of our clients’ cases.  Heuristics are analogies, metaphors, and other commonsense ways of processing complex information.  When people, including jurors, perceive information for the first time, particularly unfamiliar and/or complex information, they use their life experiences to make sense of the new information.  Heuristics often involve shortcuts in the reasoning process, such as “this reminds me of the time…” and they may or may not be accurate representations of reality.  Magnus believes an understanding of jurors’ heuristical decision making is important for attorneys’ ability to present their case facts in a manner to have the widest appeal to the jury.

A recent book, entitled “On Second Thought,” authored by Wray Hebert, analyzes the way in which heuristics and other mental shortcuts can explain people’s decisions in a variety of situations.  Wray Hebert is a science writer with extensive experience in psychology and, as such, he has provided extensive scientific references to the heuristics phenomena he has included in his book.  He argues that even groups decisions such as jury verdicts can largely be understood via an awareness of heuristics. 

The publication of the book, “On Second Thought” largely confirms what Magnus Research Consultants’ Director of Research, Dr. Melissa Pigott, has been telling our clients for decades: Jurors’ decisions are based on far more than anything the attorneys say about the legal aspects of a lawsuit.   Often, our first time clients remark that they are surprised about how little time the mock jurors spend discussing the jury instructions, legal theories, etc. of the case but nonetheless seem to come to a decision (although not necessarily a logical one) that represents the essence of the case, in the best way possible for the particular group of jurors.  It is only through an understanding of the ways in which jurors make decisions, including their utilization of decision making shortcuts such as heuristics, that jury decisions can be appreciated for all they contain.
Contact Magnus to find out what heuristics the jury is likely to employ on your next case.