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Jury Selection: Body Language in the Courtroom

by Dr. Wendy Saxon

In last month’s introductory article to this two-part series, I discussed pre-incident positioning and then recommendations for preparation before a jury pool is summoned for jury selection (if you missed it, see http://armedcitizensnetwork.org/our-journal/301-january-2014.) In addition, court procedures for seating the jury were detailed. As the jury observes the defendant, there are many non-verbal indicators that affect their impressions, just as there is much to be learned from watching the actions of prospective jurors.

You need to concern yourself with your dress, demeanor, and overall appearance both before the incident, after the incident, and certainly during any court appearances. This is majorly important, as the prospective jurors will be watching you and sizing you up according to their standards of acceptability.

Recall my advice on how you present yourself pre-incident? The vast majority of prospective jurors everywhere “know” that lawyers “clean up” their clients for court. How unfair is that, if you are a person who already has the class and sense to dress respectably in places like church, weddings, and court? Now, you may be confronted by a prosecutor waving around photos of you from social media sites...if they exist. Protect yourself from that ahead of time. And during trial, bear in mind that you are watched not only in court but in the hallways, the parking lot, in nearby restaurants. With minimal factual information, and due to understandable curiosity, prospective jurors are unconsciously making decisions about you from the get-go! That’s just human nature. Those initial impressions may be hard to overcome if they aren’t favorable to you, your lawyer, and your overall case.

Okay, you’ve got that, but what can you DO to participate in jury selection? First, I am going to share with you my instruction on body language in the courtroom. This is a simple system I have taught to lawyers, paralegals, and investigators for thirty years.

Please remember that prospective jurors are aware that they are being watched, and while in the jury box they will almost all engage in what is called SIGNAL BLUNTING.

This means that they will constrict their movements and facial expressions to such an extent that they all look alike, like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These guidelines, however, should assist in making more informed decisions.

Let’s think of the process of jury selection as a social event. These strangers from all walks of life have come in and sat in the jury room for hours if not days. They chat. They form little groups I will call dyads and tryads. Some people are overly chatty and the others give them a cool shoulder and they eventually withdraw. Other people make it clear that they don’t want to socialize; they sit apart and gaze intently at their books as though they were studying something really serious.

The majority of prospective jurors fall somewhere in between the overly friendly ones and the stand offish ones, and gradually as with any small group process, they strike up conversations, listen to others’ conversations, get accustomed to their social environment. They learn that they are free to mingle or not mingle, until some person in authority directs them to a courtroom. Once there, they sit in the hallway and are free to again mingle or not mingle. By the time they are invited in to the courtroom to start the jury selection process, they each have a “persona” to maintain vis-à-vis fellow jurors.

What this means in terms of our mission as jury pickers is that they have already established group cohesiveness, which will last only a short time but is present nonetheless.

Nonverbal Leakage

Some parts of the body can be controlled more than others. The easy parts to discipline are those parts whose actions we are most aware of in everyday signaling. We know most about our facial expressions, and so they come out on top on our self-awareness list. We lie best with our faces.

Hand movements and postures are more useful clues to deception because our jurors will be less aware of them, and there are no set rules to blunt manual expressiveness.

[Continued...]