The Effect of Jury Discussion on Recency Bias in Jury Verdict
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Should jurors be allowed to discuss trial evidence before deliberation?
In 1995, the Arizona Supreme Court reformed the jury trial process by allowing civil jurors to discuss the evidence before jury deliberations. Traditionally, jurors are instructed that they must not discuss the trial evidence with anyone before jury deliberations. Since the jury reform in Arizona, however, several states (e.g., Colorado, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan) have relaxed this prohibition and permitted jurors to discuss the evidence prior to deliberation. Other states (e.g., California and North Dakota) have actively considered making similar changes to their jury procedures.
Is predeliberation jury discussion 'verdict neutral'?
Advocates and critics have suggested both potential benefits and costs of pre-deliberation jury discussion. Benefits include greater attentiveness, better memory and comprehension of evidence, providing opportunities for jurors to correct misunderstandings, heightened jury satisfaction, and reduced conflict. Critics expressed many concerns. The primary concern is whether predeliebration jury discussion is verdict neutral. Discussions before jury deliberation could lead jurors to reach conclusions which are premature and not based on the totality of evidence to be presented at trial.
Our study found that predeliberation jury discussion biased jury verdicts. Not the way that, as commonly suspected, an early commitment to evidence heard before discussion, but rather a greater weight on evidence presented after discussion. For the purported benefits or drawbacks of predeliberation jury discussion, we found little evidence. One explanation of this recency bias is that jurors acted as if evidence heard prior to predeliebration jury discussion had “already been covered” during the predeliebration jury discussion, and so more attention may have been given to post-discussion evidence in jury deliberations.