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Courtroom Psychology Essay

2328 words - 10 pages

How human beings judge others has been the subject of many psychological studies over the years. In this paper, psychology in the legal arena is discussed including jury selection, juror life experiences and how it affects their biases, and the impact of the media on their decisions.
Jury Selection and Its Importance
Juries have the all too important task of making life altering decisions dealing with money, freedom, and many times life or death situations. Therefore, serving on a jury is a very serious and important proposition. Unfortunately, in today’s society it appears that many times juries are selected in a rather casual manner. Many individuals called to ...view middle of the document...

Whatever the means, the selection of a jury should never be taken lightly and jury duty should be mandatory, even for those who believe they are above serving.
The Purpose and Goal of Voir Dire
Voir dire is the process by which prospective jurors are questioned so their beliefs and attitudes can be examined to determine whether biases or prejudices exist. (Marder, 2005).
There are two (2) types of voir dire in practice: limited and Expansive. Limited voir dire usually entails a small number of questions non-specific to the trial. Jurors are questioned in a group and the questioning is usually done by the judge.
On the flip side, an expansive voir dire consists of a large number of questions with a much broader range. The judges along with the attorneys trying the case all question the jurors in an individual sequestered private setting. (Hans & Jehle, 2003).
The main purpose of the voir dire process is to determine whether any of the prospective jurors may have a potential bias when determining the outcome of the case. Therefore, the goal is to weed out those jurors who may have some pre-existing prejudice towards issues that may be involved in the case they will hear at trial.
All in all, expansive voir dire appears to be much more effective than limited for various reasons. First, jurors are more likely to divulge personal or embarrassing information within an individual setting rather than a group setting. Second, attorneys who are extremely familiar with the case may be able to obtain more relevant information from a potential juror, than a judge who was just assigned the trial. And, finally, the larger and broader range of questions in an expansive voir dire can reveal biases or concerns a prospective juror may not have even been aware of. (Hans & Jehle, 2003).
Although an expansive voir dire may be more time consuming and not cost effective, because of its effectiveness in weeding out inappropriate jurors, it should be made a mandatory practice if trials are to be completely fair and unbiased.
The Impact of a Juror’s Life Experience Upon Their Decision Making
There is no doubt that a juror’s life experience can have a tremendous influence on their decision making. Therefore, their real life attitudes will influence how jurors will view a case, including the facts, arguments, and ultimately the law they apply. (Heaney).
“Interpretive bias” is a psychological term that alludes to the fact that “…jurors view a case through the prism of their experiences and beliefs.” (Gabriel, p.730). This phenomenon appears to be more prevalent in high profile cases as jurors then have a chance to hear, read, and see information reported by the media regarding the case.
If a juror has had a negative experience with the police, that juror may be less willing to trust the testimony or actions of the police department in a criminal trial. Other such life experiences with...

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