CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Friday, August 9, 2019

Grosso et al. on Voir Dire

Two recent manuscripts address voir dire. Catherine M. Grosso and Barbara O'Brien (Michigan State University College of Law and Michigan State University - College of Law) have posted Lawyers and Jurors: Interrogating Voir Dire Strategies by Analyzing Conversations (Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
 
This study of individualized jury selection for 792 potential jurors across 12North Carolina capital cases, selected with purposive case selection, analyzes the conversations that occur during voir dire to examine the process that produces decisions about who serves on juries. Lawyers question prospective jurors in voir dire partly to gather information about prospective jurors’ ability to decide a case without prejudice. Jury selection, however, suffers from what social scientists call demand characteristics. Demand characteristics provide a respondent with clues about the expected response and interfere with effective information gathering. We identified two characteristics that bear on the presence and strength of demand characteristics: the form and tone of the question.We sorted all 8,583 general legal opinion questions along a four-step scale by combining these characteristics. We then used time-series analyses to examine responses to these questions in sequence. Juror responses were longest and most likely to include an affective utterance when the demand characteristics were weaker, and that loquaciousness and affect fell at each step of the scale. An independent qualitative study replicated these findings, and supported the assertion that length and form are valid measures of quality in this context.
Barbara O'BrienCatherine M. Grosso and Abijah Taylor (Michigan State University - College of Law, Michigan State University College of Law and Michigan State University - College of Law) have posted Examining Jurors: Applying Conversation Analysis to Voir Dire in Capital Cases, a First Look (Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 107, No. 4, 2017) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
 
Scholarship about racial disparities in jury selection is extensive, but the data about how parties examine potential jurors in actual trials is limited. This study of jury selection for 792 potential jurors across twelve randomly selected North Carolina capital cases uses conversation analysis to examine the process that produces decisions about who serves on juries. To examine how race influences conversations in voir dire, we adapted the Roter Interaction Analysis System, a widely used framework for understanding the dynamics of patient–clinician communication during clinical encounters, to the legal setting for the first time. This method allows us to document the conversational dynamics of actual questioning of potential jurors that precedes the decision to seat or strike a juror, or to excuse her for cause. Our preliminary analysis of this uniquely rich archival data suggests ways in which the discourse of jury selection varies by race, and provides the foundation for future work looking at the ways in which the evaluation of fitness for jury service itself is skewed and contributes to racial disparities in jury selection.

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