Individual and Group Decision Making: Current Issues

By N. John Castellan Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
11
RESEARCH ON JURY DECISION MAKING: THE STATE OF THE SCIENCE

William C. Thompson

University of California, Irvine

Psychologists who are interested in individual and group decision making have long looked with fascination at juries. These small, ad hoc groups of lay individuals perform a crucial role in the legal system: They are the ultimate trier of fact in most criminal and many civil trials. Jury decisions not only determine the outcome of cases that go to trial, they also set the parameters within which the outcomes of many more cases are negotiated. Plea bargains and out-of-court settlements are reached in the shadow of the jury, as litigants balance their hopes and fears of what a jury might decide. Because so much is at stake in jury trials, it seems important to know whether jury decisions are accurate, reasonable, and fair. Indeed, the importance of the jury in the legal system illustrates the importance of understanding the strengths and limitations of decision making by small ad hoc groups.

It is not surprising, then, that a literature has developed on jury decision making ( Erlanger, 1970; Gerbasi, Zuckerman, & Reis, 1977; Hans & Vidmar, 1986; Hastie, Penrod, & Pennington, 1983; MacCoun, 1989; Saks & Hastie, 1978). "An important early study" ( Kalven & Zeisel, 1966) surveyed trial judges, asking them to describe and evaluate the outcome of jury trials that had occurred in their courts. Inferences about jury performance were drawn by comparing the decisions of juries in several thousand cases with the decision that the judges said they would have made. This approach is somewhat analogous to the comparison of "lay" and "expert" judgments in other domains. Other researchers have conducted post-trial interviews with jurors, trying to infer the basis for jury decisions from self-reports of the participants ( Moran& Comfort, 1986; Zeisel, 1968

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