The main thing I remember about my first mock jury is that it completely and forever changed the way I speak in public.
Before that day, I would have told you my speaking style was disarmingly informal. I might not have gone on to admit that I hoped my digressive, looping, "let me say that another way" start-overs were quirkily charming, but I think I did hope that.
Jurors expect confident fluency
That's how I talked to that first mock jury, and I was mortified when the first sentence spoken in one group's deliberations was: "Is she a lawyer?" They all agreed that I must have been, and then spent at least five minutes -- it seemed like an hour -- trying to decide whether I'd been out of law school longer than a year. (I had been. Much longer.)
The lesson was painful, but I learned it fast: jurors expect lawyers to speak with confident fluency. I started finishing the sentences I had begun, and things went much better after that.
Witnesses too -- but they'd better be right
It's important, though, that she be right, even in the details. Just as we trust attractive witnesses but punish them when if they breach our trust, so we believe confident witnesses but punish them when we learn they made a mistake. That's the conclusion of a recently published study by Elizabeth Tenney and others at Virginia, summarized here by the British Psychological Society Research Digest. The researchers tell us (the italics are mine):
[E]rrors in testimony damage the overall credibility of witnesses who were confident about the erroneous testimony more than that of witnesses who were not confident about it. Furthermore, after making an error, less confident witnesses may appear more credible than more confident ones.
A new rule for eyewitness testimony in New York
The most confident witnesses are often eyewitnesses, even though research shows that they're wrong far more often than they, or most of the rest of us, realize. This week, New York's highest court made life easier for lawyers faced with confident eyewitnesses. The court held it was an abuse of discretion for a trial court to exclude expert testimony on the reliability of eyewitness testimony where the case turns on it:
[W]e hold that where the case turns on the accuracy of eyewitness identifications and there is little or no corroborating evidence connecting the defendant to the crime, it is an abuse of discretion for a trial court to exclude expert testimony on the reliability of eyewitness identifications if that testimony is (1) relevant to the witness's identification of defendant, (2) based on principles that are generally accepted within the relevant scientific community, (3) proffered by a qualified expert and (4) on a topic beyond the ken of the average juror.
Resources in this area:
1. Two sources to get you started on the confidence/credibility correlation are:
- Lindsay, Wells, and O'Connor, "Mock-Juror Belief Of Accurate And Inaccurate Eyewitnesses", Behavioral Science September 1989 ("Confidence of the eyewitness was significantly related to belief of their testimony.")
- Cutler, Penrod, and Dexter, "Juror Sensitivity To Eyewitness Identification Evidence," Law and Human Behavior April 1990 (of ten factors studied, "the confidence of the eyewitness was the most powerful predictor of verdicts.")
2. The BPS Research Digest is a great resource, as promised by its tag line: "A feast of psychology research broken down into digestible morsels for students, their teachers...in fact, anyone who loves psychology." You can subscribe, via E-mails or RSS feed.
(Image by Pernell Goodyear at http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=186748926&size=o; license details there.)