Dateline: October, 2007, Issue 2

What influences jurors' initial votes in criminal trials?

When jurors first start deliberations, most have an opinion about the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant.

Garvey and colleagues (2004) recently analyzed reports of 3,000 jurors in criminal trials in four major metropolitan areas to determine the primary influences on a juror's first vote.

The researchers found that evidence strength matters the most. Jurors pay great attention to the evidence. The stronger the evidence against the defendant, the more likely the juror is to vote guilty.

Jurors also dislike police duplicity. Police officers who give unbelievable testimony will, all else being equal, push jurors toward a first vote of not guilty.

Other influences vary by jurisdiction, case type and circumstance. For example, jurors' beliefs about the fairness of the law or the harshness of the consequences of conviction make a difference in some jurisdictions under some circumstances, but not in other jurisdictions under different circumstances.

The researchers point to the importance of analyzing juror behavior at a local, rather than regional or national, level so that important local variation in beliefs is understood and not overlooked.

Source Wells, M. T. (2004). Juror first votes in criminal trials. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 1, pp. 371-398.