Inside Jurors’ Minds: The Hierarchy of Juror Decision-Making

Carol Anderson

Date of Publication: 2012

157 pages


What Is This Book About?

The book Inside Jurors’ Minds: The Hierarchy of Juror Decision-Making is advertised as “a trial lawyer’s guide to understanding how jurors think” and in this book, Carol Anderson walks the reader through how to win their case by persuading the people rendering the verdict. This book dives into the psychology of how people make choices and are unable to set aside their biases in memory and information processing.

What Did I Like About the Book?

For someone with an undergraduate background in psychology, I found this book fascinating. This is the third book I have reviewed and I like how we are still seeing the same consistent themes across the board, even though the main premise of every book has been very different from one another. The authors all agree on the foundation of advocacy but highlight that in their own individual styles.

For example, in Inside Jurors’ Minds: The Hierarchy of Juror Decision-Making, Anderson spends an entire section on the importance of topics we have seen before – primacy and recency. Personally, I’ve heard countless times from my mock trial coach that “jurors have the attention span of a goldfish,” meaning it is vital to get your best information out first before you lose the jury’s attention. Including the first two book we reviewed, this is our third time exploring “primacy and recency” as a concept which allows us to efficiently get our point across to the jury. I have seen this many times in law school as well, making it an indispensable tool as an advocate.

Another interesting point that Anderson poses is about the position that we place jurors in – that they know what happened, before we tell them how it happened. Anderson wrote, “[b]ecause they mentally unpack the underlying event in reverse chronological order, their stories essentially begin at the end and move forward from there. Each new piece of information they hear is inadvertently, but inevitably shaped and biased by knowledge of the outcome, particularly with regard to causation.”[1]

This poses such an incredible point that I had never thought about before. When telling a story to a jury, they already know the ending. As jurors, they don’t have to “figure out what happened, but merely why it happened and who was responsible.”[2] Imagine if you sat down to watch a movie, but before the movie started, someone came in and told you the ending. Would you even be interested in hearing how that plot developed anymore? I can’t say for certain that I always would. Additionally, as humans, we favor chronological events. We like when things nicely line up, and are in order. Telling a jury the story backwards is necessary, but we are definitely putting jurors outside of their comfort zone by doing so.

What Didn’t I Like About the Book?

I couldn’t point to a particular part of the book I disliked, but Anderson spends a section writing about Information Overload which sparked my interest. She wrote about how jurors are “asked to apply rules that they may find difficult to understand – and we don’t even tell them what those rules are until the very end of the trial.”[3] I know the courts have always done things this way, but I am not sure I agree with it. I think jurors should be read a set of instructions at the beginning so throughout the trial they know what to look for and have a better understanding. Most jurors have no idea what is going on when they are selected for jury duty, so they may feel more comfortable knowing what to expect and search for throughout the duration of trial. Think of it like this – we are taught when taking exams to read the answers first, and then go back and read the question. So as the question is being read, you can begin thinking about how the answers come into play and which one might be correct. Jurors should be afforded that same opportunity. They should be read in-depth instructions on what they will need to decide on first, and then hear the trial and be reminded of those instructions.

What Did This Book Teach Me About Advocacy?

Even though this book was about the inside of jurors’ minds and how humans think, this book taught me a tremendous amount about storytelling. People are all very different and at trial, “we expect multiple jurors to draw the same conclusions about the evidence.”[4] This is why it is so important for attorneys to present information in different ways, because people learn differently and at some point, all of those different people need to somehow retain, understand, and learn the exact same information.

While it’s important to tell the story, making sure you can relay your information to a broad audience, it’s also important to make sure that story is told completely and thoroughly. Anderson wrote, “[e]very evidentiary gap is an invitation for jurors to fill in what they don’t know or weren’t told with their own inferences, interpretations, and personal biases, which inevitably distorts their perceptions of our case.”[5] She then explains the idea of a schema. Schemas are “basic cognitive frameworks we develop over the course of our lives to categorize objects, persons, places, and events in ways that help us interpret and make sense of the world around us.”[6] Anderson notes how it is important to tell your story in its full capacity, because if we don’t, jurors will naturally fill in the evidence gaps with their own memories or life experiences. They will take your victim, plaintiff, or defendant out of the story, and insert themselves instead.

How Am I Going to Be Able to Be a Better Advocate Because of This Book?

Something I think will make me a better advocate was one of the small details that Anderson mentioned, but it’s something that could go a long way. When representing a wronged plaintiff, Anderson suggested to tell the story in present tense, and provides this example from Joseph Anderson of Anderson & Pangia in Winston-Salem, North Carolina:

He comes from far away [Pause.] Rolls into town in his white truck [Pause.] He sees her there on the sidewalk – pushing her walker – and he slows down. [Pause.] He knows she can’t get down to the basement. [Pause.] He likes what he sees.

By telling the story in the present tense like the above example, Anderson notes that we have created intimacy, immediacy, and an irresistible forward momentum. Jurors find themselves attached to our story, and it makes it harder for the jury to distance themselves from the defendant’s actions. Even though they don’t know who “he” is, or who “she” is, they find themselves wanting to know.

Then when switching into discussing your client (the female wronged plaintiff), switch into talking about her actions in a past tense.

Six months went by. [Pause.] She paid him over $15,000. [Pause.] It was nearly all of the money she had. [Pause.] And the foundation of her home was still unstable.

By talking about your client in the past tense, it makes her conduct removed from what actually happened in the story, and naturally it will make her less blameworthy in comparison to the defendant and their actions. Although this is a very small detail, it is part of what makes Anderson’s book so special. Anderson provides her readers with the little tools that subconsciously help make a jury find them more convincing and credible.

At the end of the day, as a future litigator, I am only going to be successful if I am convincing to either a judge or a jury. This book taught me a lot about the way people think and make decisions. But as Anderson notes, “[c]ases aren’t decided on the facts, but on the juror’s perceptions of the facts.”[7] This is why it is so important to convey your story accurately, completely, persuasively, and in an entertaining fashion.

[1] Carol Anderson, Inside Jurors’ Minds: The Hierarchy of Juror Decision-Making, 63, (2012).

[2] Id. at 66.

[3] Id. at 20.

[4] Id. at 10.

[5] Id. at 12.

[6] Jean Piaget, The Origins of Intelligence in Children (1952); Frederic Bartlett Et Al., Scripts, Plains, Goals and Understanding: An Inquiry into Human Knowledge Structures (1977).

[7]  Carol Anderson, Inside Jurors’ Minds: The Hierarchy of Juror Decision-Making, 7, (2012).