Since January 1, jurors in Indiana courtrooms have received new instructions as they leave for recesses. Indiana adopted a new jury rule which allows jurors to discuss the case among themselves in the jury room before all the evidence has come in, provided all the jurors are present for the discussion and provided they reserve their final judgments until deliberations begin. Previously, jurors were instructed to wait until both sides had presented all their evidence before engaging in discussions.
“There is a belief among many lawyers that the rule may benefit the plaintiff or the prosecution,” said Dennis P. Stolle, Ph.D., who is both a social psychologist and an attorney, “but research does not support this fear.”
According to Stolle, the jury discussion rule has been studied by social scientists and jury experts in Arizona, where a similar rule was adopted several years ago. Social scientists videotaped juror activity in selected Arizona cases in which discussions were allowed and were not allowed. The results were then compared.
“Some lawyers contend that the rule may benefit the plaintiff or the prosecution because their evidence is presented first in the trial sequence, before hearing from the defense, and that this will cause the jurors to make up their minds early and disregard the defense evidence,” said Stolle. “But the studies showed that discussions are significantly more likely to occur in the second half of the trial, when the defense evidence is coming in. The studies also showed that plaintiff win rates and damage awards did not differ between cases where discussion is allowed or is not allowed.”
Stolle will be observing the implementation of the new discussion rule on Indiana, but he anticipates that jury discussion will have positive effects: “The studies affirmatively show that allowing discussion results in jurors having a more accurate understanding of the trial evidence, and that there is no systematic bias in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant."