Dateline: June, 2008, Issue 3

Do jurors return verdicts in accordance with a judge's leaning?

Judges exhibit their leaning in cases, and jurors take their cue from their judge. Even subtle differences in how judges read jury instructions can influence verdicts.

Researchers (Blanck et al., 1985; Blanck et al., 1990; Hart, 1995) have investigated how judges' expectations for the outcome of a trial predicted both (a) the judges' verbal and nonverbal behavior, and (b) the verdicts returned by juries.

Blanck and colleagues (1985) videotaped judges reading the California Pattern Jury Instructions during actual trials, and also obtained the judges' opinions of what they thought the verdict should be. When judges favored a guilty verdict, judges' nonverbal behavior when reading the jury instructions was less warm, less competent, less wise, and more anxious.

Blanck and colleagues (1990) report that judges exhibited their expectation of a guilty verdict through less eye contact, fewer head nods, fewer smiles and postural inattention. These nonverbal behaviors corresponded with jurors' perceptions of those judges as being less warm, less competent, less wise, and more anxious.

Hart (1995) reports that jurors are more likely to convict a defendant when read instructions by judges who expect the defendant to be found guilty, and are more likely to acquit a defendant when read instructions by judges who expect the defendant to be acquitted. Jurors return the most guilty verdicts when the judge expects a guilty verdict both before and after the testimony, the next most guilty verdicts when the judge expects conviction before testimony and acquittal after, fewer guilty verdicts when the judge expects acquittal before testimony and conviction after, and the fewest guilty verdicts when the judge expects acquittal both before and after presentation of the evidence. Even when admonished to disregard the judge's behavior and form their own opinions, jurors returned verdicts concordant with the judge's bent.

Even when reading standard jury instructions, judges exhibit their leaning in a case, and jurors reach verdicts in accordance with that leaning.

Source Blanck, P. D., Rosenthal, R., & Cordell, L. H. (1985). The appearance of justice: Judges' verbal and nonverbal behavior in criminal jury trials. Stanford Law Review, 38, pp. 89-164.

Source Blanck, P. D., Rosenthal, R., Hart, A. J., & Bernieri, F. (1990). The measure of the judge: An empirically-based framework for exploring trial judges' behavior. Iowa Law Review, 75, pp. 653-684.

Source Hart, A. J. (1995). Naturally occurring expectation effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, pp. 109-115.