I like to scan the social science releases from ScienceDaily, and a new one caught my eye entitled, “What is the meaning of life? Ask a conservative.” The science discussed in this release shows that conservatives are more likely than liberals to view their lives as having purpose and meaning. The conclusion comes from a study (Newman et al., 2018) drawing from data from 16 countries collected over the course of four decades, and indicates that, even after controlling for religious differences, there is something about conservatism that seems to promote that sense of purpose. “Finding meaning in life is related to the sense or feeling that things are the way they should be, and that there is a sense of order,” according to lead author David Newman, of the University of Southern California’s Dornsife’s Mind and Society Center.
This contributes to our understanding of political differences and the ways they reflect not just differences in policy preferences, but also differences in cognition. The results in this case relate to an individual sense of purpose, which conservatives tend to have in greater amounts. But purpose tends to be important for all kinds of people. The research focus provides a reminder on basic adaptation when trying to persuade. A juror’s life’s purpose isn’t to deliver you your preferred verdict. But the implied roles you ask them to assume as they hear and react to your story will reference those deep attitudes and purposes. I have written in the past about something called a “Second Persona,” or a speaker’s conveyed expectations about their audience. So it is worth asking, what are you asking a juror to “be” in this case, and how does that invitation jibe with what they see as their purpose in life? Different appeals will play to different themes relating to jurors’ self-image. In this post, I will touch on several of these broad purposes that could be conveyed as part of your trial message.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, there are several messages attorneys might send that connect to a juror’s self-perception of purpose.
You Want to Help
You might frame jurors’ role in the trial as an instance of “social work,” broadly speaking, meaning that the trial helps accomplish something that society values.
People like my clients bring their cases before a jury because they are looking for the kind of help that only you can provide. And what you can provide is an answer that helps everyone step back from this dispute, find a resolution, and get on with their lives.
You Are Fair-Minded
The appeal might prioritize jurors’ need to hear both sides, to provide a neutral evaluation, and to avoid assumptions.
We all know, from our social media, and just our conversations in the world, that some people jump to conclusions pretty easily. But you aren’t ‘some people.’ You are a jury. And a jury wants nothing more than to just hear the facts, without spin, from both sides, so you can make a full and fair decision.
You Are Thorough
The message might position jurors as being willing to do the hard work and to avoid the easy answers and the quick way out.
I know, in any complicated situation, it can be tempting to look for the simple answer or the easy way out. But we have watched you taking notes, and carefully paying attention for these past few weeks, and I don’t think that applies to any of you. Your goal, when you get to that deliberation room, will be to dig in deeply, to work carefully, and to be thorough.
You Are Independent
It can be appealing for jurors to see themselves as charting their own course, based on their own perceptions and choices, without manipulation.
It is the nature of the U.S. trial system that I want you to see things my way, and my colleagues, there on the other side, want you to see things their way. But the true beauty of the jury system is that you don’t work for either side. You want to see things your way. You want to reach your own decision, and I respect that. For that reason, in this closing, I won’t be telling you what to think, but I will be walking you through the information you will want to review in reaching your own decision.
You Are Powerful
In practice, jurors are in a position to exercise power over others. For many of them, that is a pretty unique situation, and the ability to wield that power in a fair and responsible manner is attractive.
In this case, you can do something that no one else can do – not me, nor my client, nor even the judge. You can say what truly happened, you can say who is reasonable and who is not, and you can apply a consequence and make it binding on the parties.
You are Careful
Keeping that power in mind, the role can also focus on the importance of avoiding mistakes. In a criminal context, that can mean, even at the risk of allowing some false-negatives, never allowing a false-positive.
This justice system is a human system, and we all know that human systems can make mistakes. So the system addresses that by including the most effective machine that humans have yet come up with for making sure that things are done carefully, considering many perspectives, and with attention to every fact. That machine is the jury. You are the system’s last and best check against haste, assumptions, or other mistakes.