Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Compliant Juror: Part VI

In Part IV of this series, I defined a compliant juror as one who voted guilty though the State had not proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Also in Part IV, I provided what I believe to be incontrovertible evidence that jurors tend to be compliant.

In Parts I, II, and III of this series, I suggested that jurors tend to be compliant because people (who tend to be the primary constituent of juries) are loath to disobey authority. I relied on the work of Stanley Milgram to show how far most people will go rather than disobey an authority figure.

(In Milgram's experiments, the majority of subjects were willing to apply lethal electric shocks to an individual rather than disobey the authority figure.)

In Part V of this series, I suggested that jurors tend to be compliant also because of confirmation bias. People believe most defendants are guilty, and people tend to believe their government would not willfully prosecute someone who was clearly innocent. Jurors therefore tend to give more weight to the State's evidence than to the defense evidence or rebuttal.

(I realize as I write this summary that my Confirmation Bias hypothesis cannot explain juror surveys in which jurors self report that they voted guilty even though the evidence favored the defendant. Confirmation bias cannot therefore be the sole reason for juror compliance.)

In this post, I offer a third possible source of juror compliance: Self Interest.

In 1776, a busy year for personal and economic freedom, Adam Smith first published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith argued that a free-market economy is superior to a State-controlled economy. Though both categories of economic systems are flawed, particularly when taken to the limit, I believe history has clearly proven Adam Smith to be correct.

Adam Smith turned out to be correct because his preferred economic system embraced, rather than outlawed, each individual's pursuit of his or her own self-interest. In a free market, those who produce something of value are free to sell it to those who want it. The transaction takes place only when both parties mutually agree on a fair price. Neither party can be forced (directly or indirectly by the State) to engage in a transaction against their wish or self-interest.

Smith recognized that when left to their own devices, both the seller and the buyer will pursue their own self interest. The seller will attempt to extract as high a price as possible for his product or service. The buyer will attempt to pay as little as possible. The two will agree to a transaction only when the price is low enough to accommodate the buyer's penny-pinching but high enough to allow the seller to make a profit.  The buyer is always free to forego the product or seek a different seller. The seller is always free to stop manufacturing his product or seek a different buyer.

While we seem to be frequently repulsed by the idea that (other) individuals actually pursue their own self-interest, it is a mistake to presume that people will not do so.

I argue that jurors can have a substantial self-interest in their jury verdict. I argue this is particularly so in emotionally charged cases such as child molestation, rape, murder, and other violent crimes. Jurors clearly cannot be sanctioned by the State in any fashion for their verdict, and in most cases there will be no public approval or disapproval to worry about. Every juror, though, will have to live with the consequence of his or her vote. For some jurors whose moral compass always points to "Don't Care", it won't be an issue. But most jurors (i.e. people) do care. Most jurors want to do what is right. Most jurors don't want to inflict harm upon the innocent. So most people are biased to vote guilty.

To help you understand, I relinquish for a moment the foreperson chair I occupied in my last jury deliberation. The defendant is charged with child molestation.

I suspect you are aware of the common belief that child molesters never stop. If the defendant did molest those children and you find him not guilty, other children will certainly be molested. Can you live with that?

Is it more important that the State cross every "t" and dot every "i", or is it more important that more innocent children not be molested?

This is not an academic game, now that you are sitting in a juror's chair. This is as real as it gets. We're talking about a real defendant and real children. If you don't feel a pit in your stomach, I'm not making my point.

Are you really going to insist on proof beyond a reasonable doubt? Are you going to ignore the young victims who testified he did it? Why would they say such things if it didn't happen?

How are you going to feel if that person walks free because of you? If he molests again, as he is certain to do if he did it before, won't you be partially responsible?

Won't you?

Will it be sufficient comfort to you that you only followed your jury instructions, that you stood by your oath? The State presented some evidence of guilt, but they always present some evidence of guilt. Do you feel so strongly that evidence did not constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you are willing to risk putting a child molester back on the street?

You say you feel that strongly about your oath. Sleep tightly, then. And make sure you never read the local papers. You might find a story you never want to know about.

I'll take possession of the foreperson chair once again. Thank you for the respite.

Some jury members, however, did talk about what would happen if he were acquitted. As foreperson, I attempted to limit that discussion. I reminded them that we were supposed to base our decision only on the facts of the case, nothing more. During one of our four trips back before the judge, I raised that very issue. 

Were we prohibited from discussing the possible consequences of conviction? Answer: yes.

Were we prohibited from discussing the possible consequences of acquittal? Answer: no.

I was dumbstruck, and I believe still that the judge was wrong in his ruling. I have no doubt, however, that jurors are more concerned (particularly in emotionally charged cases) about the consequences of releasing a guilty defendant than they are about depriving a defendant of his constitutional guarantees. The first mistake is palpable and stomach churning. The second is theoretical pie-in-the-sky.

The jurors have a self-interest in being able to live with their verdict, and that self-interest biases them towards a guilty verdict.

So here's a tip on how to use confirmation bias as a powerful emotion-coping tool. However you vote, you can maximize your self-interest by biasing the evidence to confirm your verdict.