And Now for Something Completely Different

•July 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After reading so many studies on the inaccuracies of human memory, and how easy it is for witnesses to be influenced by just about anything, I am losing a little faith in the way our justice system works. Apparently, memory can be enhanced with multiple eyewitnesses talking about what happened. That is a start. But when the hard evidence comes down to one individual saying what they think happened, that seems a bit dangerous.

Amusingly enough, a videogame I once played was based on law. For those interested (i.e. nobody), it was called Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The gameplay was simple: you hear a witness testimony that damns your client, and then you pick it apart by pressing them on certain statements and presenting evidence that contradicts their account. I thought it was fun, but entirely unrealistic. But the books we have read and the studies and articles written are in vague support of such a scenario, where witnesses remember things inaccurately, or sometimes totally wrong. Psychological studies suggest that witnesses can be entirely unreliable and yet totally confident, for various reasons. Perhaps something does not make completely sense in their memory, so their mind cleans the memory up a bit. Perhaps something completely unrelated, such as a clothing store display, infiltrated the perceived event, so now the criminal is wearing a certain outfit. Our minds are not file cabinets after all; our memories can overlap. Or we can remember things that did not happen (coolest word ever: confabulation). The simulation in class presented twenty-six individuals with a single event, which none of us could remember with extreme accuracy. That we could argue over something as simple as the color of the person’s clothing is a little foreboding. If we couldn’t even get that right, could we actually point out the “criminal?” Would our testimony be more misleading than helpful? Man, the jury sure has a tough job. In the mean time, I wonder if any psychological principles could be used to help the witnesses remember more accurately.



That Mindset must be CRUSHED!!!!!!

•July 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Our constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression to everyone, right? Well at least that’s what we want to believe. If this freedom exists, shouldn’t everyone be allowed to follow any mindset of their choosing. We all know that excluding certain groups, such as homosexuals, from organizations is considered discrimination and is frowned upon by all the smart people in the world. However, and this pains me to say, there are some decent reasons for a mindset of exclusion. Take for instance this example: “With this ruling I would now like to see some/any black student campus group forced to admit a card carrying KKK member or a White supremist group member to their ranks.” The belief of the person in question is obviously a legitimate reason for exclusion from the group, but it is still exclusion.

If this is a credible contraction of beliefs that supports the idea of exclusion, then the U.S. Supreme Court case of the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez could be considered a credible exclusion also. The Christian Legal Society was a college group that was denied official recognition; the aims of this group were to simply “discuss the law from a Christian perspective.”  Members of this group were expected to be Christian and to abide by Christian rules, including those pertaining to homosexuality. The controversy was caused by the exclusion of homosexuals from this group. The court ruled in opposition of the Christian Legal Society by a 5-to-4 decision. The reason for this was that, and I quote, ” For its is a mindset that must be crushed! Or at least set apart.” Ironically, many gay-lesbian organizations on college campuses are free to remove any officer who ” works against the spirit of the organization’s goals and objectives,” or in others words, someone who is no longer a homosexual. These mindsets are definitely not the ones discussed by Dweck, but it are interesting to consider just how far exclusion can go before it becomes a legal matter.


Mindsets in the Court

•July 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I think that different mindsets within the jury could have a major impact on the outcome of cases. Jury members with fixed mindsets are more likely to see the defendant as unchanging like themselves and thus if they are convinced the defendant is guilty they will be unable change their minds as the trial proceeds. On the other hand, jury members with growth mindsets would probably see the defendant as a malleable character like themselves. This way of thinking could convince the jurors that the defendant, naturally, could be rehabilitated and maybe isn’t guilty, or at least not fully to blame.These mindsets could also have an impact on lawyers themselves. Those who have a fixed mindset would be much less likely to take cases that aren’t cases they would definitely win. Though winning is good, it becomes nearly impossible to move forward and gain experience when you refuse to take any risks at all. Also, losing a case that seemed like a definite win could be extremely detrimental to the self-esteem of a fixed mindset lawyer. Following this unexpected loss, a fixed mindset lawyer would most likely try to prove themselves and their abilities over and over again to relieve the doubt that came with losing. A lawyer with a growth mindset, would be much more likely to take risks and be less affected after losses, as well as put a lot of effort and dedication into their work. Both mindsets have pros and cons, but having one or the other whether you’re in the jury or the lawyer, can almost certainly have consequences in the courtroom.


Court Mindsets

•July 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Ultimately, I think that a person’s mindset determines how they are going to handle a case.  A defendant with a fixed mindset is going to be set in their ways.  If they believe they are a criminal, they are going to except that and whatever punishment comes with it, because they believe that factor is set in stone.  If the criminal has a fixed mindset, I would imagine that they would plead guilty and take their sentence.  They wouldn’t go through the trouble of going to trial, because they know that they are a criminal.  On the other hand, criminals with a growth mindset would be willing to give their trial their all and really work with their lawyer.  They would believe that they made a mistake but that they can learn from it and become a better person.

I think that a jury of people mostly with growth mindsets would release the prisoner.  With a growth mindset, people would probably be able to be persuased more easily that the defendant has learned from his mistake and isn’t really a bad guy.  With a growth mindset, you would agree with this because you don’t believe that traits are set in stone.  I think the same pertains to defense lawyers.  With a growth mindset, they may believe the defendant that he/she is not guilty and work harder to get them acquitted.

All in all I think defendants are more likely to get acquittated when everyone approaches the case with a growth mindset.



•July 23, 2010 • 1 Comment

Rape is the most underreported crime in the United States, according to Dean G. Kilpatrick. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) reports that only 40% of rapes and assaults are reported to the police.  Most women fear that justice will not be served in the case of their rape or assault; this is due to the stereotype that women are temptresses and therefore are responsible for getting assaulted.  In past cases, if the victim was intoxicated and/or dressed promiscuously, the defendant would be acquitted, because the victim was ‘asking for it.’  The stereotype is so pervasive that a jury comprised of all females is even more likely to acquit the defendant.  According to RAINN, 15 of 16 rapists walk free.

Rapes continue to go unreported, possibly because about 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim (RAINN).  The victims feel a connection with their assailant, especially if they are apart of the 38% of rapists who are a friend or acquaintance.  Victims who are raped often feel embarrassed and dirty due to the violation.  The victims may feel as if they are living down to the stereotype that women are temptresses and that they are unable to control themselves.  The consequence of the acceptance of this stereotype is that the rapists are rarely convicted.

In the courtroom, women on the jury see the stereotype and react judgmentally and subjectively.  Women tend to judge the victim more harshly than men do, due to the innate competitive nature and sexual jealousy experienced between women.  Also, the jury experiences cognitive dissonance, because they want to believe that the world is a fair place, but something unfair has happened.  Therefore, the victim must be blamed for the crime in order to ease the tension in the juries’ mind.  This leads to confirmation of the stereotype poised against the victim.  The victim will then internalize the prejudice directed towards her and complete the cycle of the stereotype threat.  Because of hindsight bias the victims begin to see themselves as responsible for the assault, especially if the defendant’s lawyer attacks their character.

In an attempt to reduce the juries’ dissonance experience, the identity and appearance of the victim should be concealed.  This would allow the jury to objectively assess the situation and all of the facts at hand, instead of focusing on their personal judgments about the victim.  The defendant’s appearance and identity should also be concealed to avoid bias in favor of an apparently upstanding citizen.

Unfortunately, most rape cases come down to he said, she said.  It is tragic that women cannot empathize with other women, who are in desperate need of their support, allowing most rapists to walk free.

Truth of the matter is…

•July 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Human nature is a constant crutch in uncovering the truth. Human beings are capable of such atrocities that one begins to wonder how we can live with our race. To cope with our flaws, humans seek to punish others for their grievances, no matter how trivial they may be. This human tendency is the basis of the court systems in effect today; their main goal being to find the truth of others mistakes and punishing them accordingly. An important factor in finding the truth is the credibility of the accused. Even though every human being is capable of horrible things, the appearance and disposition of the accused plays a major role in the opinions generated by the jury. If the accused is a seemingly sweet old man, then the jury will be less likely to believe that he could be capable of robbing a bank, and the prosecutor will need to work even harder to convince the jury of this man’s guilt. On the other hand, if the accused were a sketchy young hooligan with a permanent scowl, then the jury’s will be compelled to believe that he could be responsible for the allegations made against him.


Perhaps a more important question of credibility is that of those called as witnesses during the trial proceedings, since there is already a stigma surrounding anyone who is accused of a crime. These people are crucial factors that attribute much to the outcome of the trial. If humans are capable of committing a severe enough crime to merit a trial, then surely they are capable of lying about them. Any one of the witnesses in a trial could commit perjury at any time, and this infraction could remain forever unknown to the members of the jury. This discrepancy causes a need for the jury to sort through each piece of information presented to them; they must then determine which information should be considered based on the credibility of the witness who provided the information. However, any information the jury disregards on the basis of absurdity, even those that have been publicly acclaimed lies by those with authority over the court, can never be completely removed from their minds and can still play a role in the final verdict. Thus, in any trial, the credibility of the people involved is crucial in whether the truth is discovered, and how accurate this truth may be.

Credibility in the Courtroom

•July 19, 2010 • 1 Comment

For anyone who wants to leave a lasting opinion on a jury, credibility is essential.  Credibility will ensure that the jurors will recall the witnesses’s facts when deciding the final verdict.

If a defense lawyer is going with an insanity case for the criminal, he or she will often go to great lengths to find the most credible psychologist to convince the jurors that the culprit was in fact insane.  Once the psychologist gets on the stand and proves that he or she is in fact an expert in the given topic by listing his or her degrees, jobs, and past trials he or she participated in, the jurors most likely would feel like they could trust the expert witness’s findings and facts.  After the defense lawyer has interrogated the witness, it is the prosecution’s job to disprove the expert’s credibility.

If a felon ascends the witness stand, he or she will also need credibility.  The felon’s lawyer will present the culprit in a formal suit or dress in order for the jury to believe and sympathize with him or her.  A criminal holds more credibility when he or she appears as a normal citizen, than when wearing orange scrubs and resembling a caged animal.  By displaying the criminal as an ordinary person, the jury will remember that it the criminal is not necessarily guilty and that they must weigh every fact carefully.

As Elliot Aronson explained in The Social Animal, credibility is not necessarily having high moral caliber, but simply appearing expert and trustworthy.

-Katie C.