Jury Selection & Voir Dire

For years, legal psychologists have explored, with mixed results, whether demographic, personality, or attitudinal characteristics predict juror verdicts.  In our laboratory, we are moving past these preliminary investigations to determine whether social psychological processes influence how and when these characteristics influence verdicts.


Biased Hypothesis Testing and Behavioral Confirmation in Voir Dire

For example, we have explored whether psychological tendencies to seek hypothesis confirming information result in voir dire questions that elicit poor information from jurors and whether attorneys under or overvalue the information they receive from jurors when making their jury selection decisions.  Specifically, we have conducted four studies that extend our research on whether attorneys’ engage in biased hypothesis testing during voir dire, whether jurors behaviorally confirm attorneys’ expectations about the jurors’ characteristics, and whether jurors’ confirmation of attorneys’ expectations produces cognitive dissonance and consequently causes them to alter their decisions at trial to reduce the dissonance.


Juror Rehabilitation

During voir dire, judges may attempt to ‘‘rehabilitate’’ venirepersons who express an inability to be impartial. Venirepersons who agree to ignore their biases and base their verdict on the evidence and the law are eligible for jury service. In one study, mock jurors who held attitudes about the insanity defense that would make them eligible or ineligible for jury service in a trial using that defense participated in either a standard or rehabilitative voir dire conducted by a mock judge. They subsequently watched a videotaped re-enactment of a murder trial in which the defendant’s sanity was in question.  Rehabilitation influenced insanity defense attitudes and perceptions of the defendant’s mental state, and decreased scaled guilt judgments compared to standard questioning. Although rehabilitation is intended to correct for partiality among biased jurors, rehabilitation similarly influenced biased and unbiased jurors. In a second experiment, we found that watching rehabilitation did not influence jurors’ perceptions of the judge’s personal beliefs about the case.  We have conducted additional studies examining whether rehabilitation influences jurors’ evaluations of the strength of the evidence supporting a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity verdict and whether rehabilitation corrects for biases resulting from exposure to pretrial publicity.


Jury Composition and Juror Decision Making after Juvenile Waiver Voir Dire

We have also explored whether the voir dire process used to select jurors in cases in which juveniles are tried in adult court biases jurors against juvenile defendants using archival, survey, and trial simulation methods.  In archival research, we explored whether voir dire in juvenile waiver cases (i.e., cases in which juveniles are waived from the juvenile justice system to adult court) share features with voir dire conducted in capital cases.  We found that similar to capital voir dire, the voir dire in cases in which juveniles are tried as adults contained questions that ask potential jurors whether they could find the defendant guilty knowing that he could spend time in adult prison.

In survey research, we investigated whether there are demographic characteristics that covary with attitudes about the juvenile waiver process.  Toward this end, we developed a scale to assess jurors’ attitudes toward trying juveniles as adults and established the scale’s reliability and its convergent, divergent, and predictive validity.  Across several studies, we have found that Black respondents are far less likely to support juvenile waiver than respondents from other races, increasing the likelihood that they will be excused from jury duty in these cases.

To examine the influence of jury composition on jury decision making, we conducted a trial simulation in which we manipulated whether juries were comprised only of jurors who would be seated in juvenile waiver cases (juvenile qualified jurors) or contained both juvenile qualified jurors and those who would likely be excluded from jury service given their opposition to the practice of juvenile waiver (non-juvenile qualified jurors).  Juries watched a videotape that simulated the trial of a juvenile defendant who was tried in adult court for first-degree murder.  Not surprisingly, juvenile qualified juries were more likely to convict the defendant than were juries that had mixed attitudes toward juvenile waiver. Juries with mixed attitudes deliberated for longer periods of time and were more likely to hang than juvenile qualified juries. We are currently coding the content of the jury deliberations to assess whether the quality of the deliberation differed as a function of the attitudinal composition of the jury.

Finally, we conducted a series of studies to explore whether exposure to a voir dire in which jurors are asked questions about their attitudes toward juvenile waiver influences jurors’ pretrial beliefs about defendant guilt and whether this influence persists after the presentation of trial evidence.  Exposure to juvenile voir dire cause juvenile qualified jurors to hold pretrial beliefs that are prejudicial toward juvenile defendants.  Jurors who watched a juvenile voir dire were more likely to believe that the defendant was guilty and that the judge and both attorneys believed that the defendant was guilty than were jurors who watched a standard voir dire.  However, this pretrial guilt bias as a function of voir dire type did not persist after the presentation of trial evidence in two trial simulation studies. Jurors who viewed a juvenile qualification voir dire and jurors who viewed a standard voir dire did not differ in their post-trial judgments of defendant despite pretrial biases against the defendant among those who viewed the juvenile qualification voir dire.


Selected Publications

  • Otis, C. C., Greathouse, S. M., Kennard, J. B., & Kovera, M. B.  (accepted with minor revisions). Hypothesis-testing in attorney-conducted voir dire.  Law and Human Behavior.
  • Kovera, M. B. & Cutler, B. L. (2013).  Jury selection.  New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Kovera, M. B. (2012). Voir dire and jury selection. In R.K. Otto (Ed.), Comprehensive Handbook of Psychology, Volume 11:  Forensic Psychology (2nd ed., pp. 630-647).  New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Kovera, M. B., & Cutler, B. L.  (2012).  Evaluation for jury selection.  In R. Roesch & P. A. Zapf (Eds.), Forensic Assessments in Criminal and Civil Law: A Handbook for Lawyers (pp. 88-102)New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Greathouse, S. M., Sothmann, F. C., Levett, L. M., & Kovera, M. B.  (2011). The potentially biasing effects of voir dire in juvenile waiver cases.  Law and Human Behavior, 35, 427-439.  DOI 10.1007/s10979-010-9247-z
  • Crocker [Otis], C., & Kovera, M. B. (2011).  Systematic jury selection.  In  R. L. Wiener and B. H. Bornstein (Eds.), Handbook of trial consulting (pp. 13-31).  New York: Springer.
  • Crocker [Otis], C. B., & Kovera, M. B.  (2010). The effects of rehabilitative voir dire on juror bias and decision making.  Law and Human Behavior, 34, 212-226. DOI 10.1007/s10979-009-9193-9

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers 0136652, 0520617, 0921065, and 0921408). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.