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    Polarized Juries?

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    Posted on March 6, 2018 To

    Much research has been conducted on jurors and how they think. This type of insight helps lawyers to determine trends among the population and make wiser choices in selecting those types of people and personalities who will have a fair and open mind to their cases at trial.

    A recent study conducted by Willow Research concluded that political divisions in this country have been intensifying over the last 25 years, with some people’s beliefs falling on the extreme ends of the scales. But that is “leaving a large chasm in the center.”

    The diagram that Willow Research published on Feb. 22, 2018, clearly shows this trend – the consistently liberal and the consistently conservative – have moved more to the left and more to the right, leaving a crater in the center.

    Just as this study was released, I began the trial of a case on behalf of a young woman who was dragged by a truck and suffered severe injuries to her legs and pelvis. My partner, Kevin P. Durkin, and I along with associate Tracy A. Brammeier selected a jury that we thought was solid. Twelve people and two alternates – six men and six women ultimately would decide this woman’s fate for the rest of her life. About a week into the trial, the defendants settled for $35 million, allowing this woman to get the care she so desperately needs to lead what should be a normal life expectancy.

    As the jurors were dismissed, the judge informed them that they could speak to the attorneys if they chose. Many stopped to wish the plaintiff well and offered their thoughts on the experts who had testified to that point. How did the Willow study factor in to what we witnessed in the courtroom for ourselves?

    With the upcoming state elections in Illinois and congressional elections across the country, one need look no further than national news to see how passionate many are on heated issues of the day – from gun control to sexual harassment to politicians’ handling of critical decisions? “According to a recent national survey, 7 in 10 Americans say that the level of civil discourse in the U.S. has deteriorated since President Trump’s election.” Willow Research quoting NPR/PBRNewsHour/Marist poll, June 21-25, 2017.

    Certainly Americans have gotten used to a new type of presidential communication – daily, if not hourly, opinions coming from President Trump via social media. His tweets have been said to get the country rocking and the stock market swinging one way or another. Are jurors any different?

    According to the Willow Research poll, yes. Using social science inquiry techniques, even mock jurors show great respect for one another and for the process. “Jurors will engage each other with good arguments, each side of the debate actively working to understand the other side’s position. Indeed, after taking a preliminary poll, the group in the majority typically asks those in the minority to explain their points of view, so they can better understand the dissenting position and work towards consensus or compromise.”

    It is heartening to know that the jury room still seems to be protected from such polarization. As Willow President, Sara Parikh, put it, “Whatever issues may divide Americans in the public arena seem to be left behind when they enter the deliberation room.” She went on to say that, “We hypothesize that the key is the nature of the task they’re given. Giving a diverse group of individuals a solemn commission and a collective goal compels them to work together, which fosters respect and open-mindedness. Jurors are conscious that their decisions affect real people in profound ways, and that awareness elevates their discussion above the polarization of the day.”

    At my latest trial, we could hear the jurors laughing and bonding in the jury room while we awaited for each session to begin. Jurors take their oath seriously and that plaintiffs and defendants still can be assured a fair trial as jurors put aside their political differences to carry out their important duties for which our Founding Fathers fought so hard.