Dateline: February, 2008, Issue 4

Do jurors differentiate what is stated in testimony from what is implied by testimony?

A witness can testify directly that "After I heard the shot, I made a phone call" or can imply making the call through the indirect statement that "After I heard the shot, I went to the telephone."

A witness can testify directly that "I rang the burglar alarm" or can imply ringing the alarm through the indirect statement that "I ran up to the burglar alarm." The actions of phone calling and alarm ringing are affirmed in the direct testimony, and only implied in the indirect testimony.

Harris and colleagues (1978) studied the effects of direct and indirect statements in courtroom testimony, and found that jurors remembered both direct assertions and the implications of indirect statements as definite fact.

Some jurors also heard specific instructions about the pitfalls of interpreting implied information as if it were asserted fact. The instructions had no effect. Jurors treated the implied information as fact even when specifically warned not to do so.

Jurors do not differentiate actions that are stated directly in testimony from those that are implied with indirect statements.

Source Harris, R. J., Teske, R. R., & Ginns, M. J. (1978). Memory for pragmatic implications from courtroom testimony. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 6, pp. 494-496.