Jury Decision Making
In a perfect world, jury decision-making is guided by facts and evidence alone leading to a verdict that is arrived at logically. In real life, however, there are a number of factors outside of the legal domain that affect jury decision-making, shading the process and clouding judgment. Jury composition, group dynamics, and trial processes are examples of extraneous factors that influence the jury’s decision-making process (Ford, 1986).
Personal characteristics and group dynamics are salient factors because jurors interpret evidence inside the framework of their own distinctive experiences. Each juror’s experiential foundation is subsidiary to her sex, race, age, and personality. Yet, the relationships among personal characteristics and jury decision-making are complex and direct affects on juror behavior are unclear. On the other hand, the impact of attitudes and personality characteristics on juror behavior is considerably more evident (Ford, 1986).
Group processes further complicate the decision-making process by moderating or changing how jurors behave in the wider group when deliberating the verdict. Selection of the foreman and formation of a majority coalition are prime examples of such processes (Dwyer, 2001). The jury selects a foreman before any deliberation takes place. Who is selected as the foreman, and based on what criteria, influences the flow and temper of leadership in the group. The opinions of the majority are very powerful in determining the jury’s final verdict. Formation of an early majority coalition can be highly influential.
Courts are not oblivious to these personal and group dynamic factors affecting jury decision-making. No one called for jury duty is automatically chosen to serve on the jury. The courts have procedures in place to moderate against the influence of extraneous factors. Pre-trial interviews known as voir dire, peremptory challenges allowed to lawyers before final selection of a jury member and judicial instructions are three examples of such safeguards (Dwyer, 2001; Ford, 1986).
Not all jury verdicts are based on legally relevant evidentiary facts. A wide variety of extraneous factors can influence jury decision-making. Personal characteristics of individual jurors and group dynamics at play during deliberation are key examples of such factors. Courts have instituted defenses to guard against such factors. However, it is important to remember the disruptive affects of jury composition and group processes on the outcome of a trial.