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July 8, 2011


juror groupthink, learning, listening & the system

by Andrea O'Connell

The news about the acquittal of Casey Anthony, in her First Degree murder trial, is only a couple of days old and still the stories have legs like spiders weaving more sticky situations.

There will be questions and stories for days to come. I’d always thought that once Casey Anthony was sent to jail for the rest of her life, this story would fade away until it became a small memory in our minds.

The acquittal of Casey Anthony, completely unexpected by virtually everyone, including the media, is now a story with enormous interest.   Now that a complete acquittal has occurred, this story will drag on longer than necessary, because we need answers.

The media is all over every second of the story, and I can’t help but follow the news, tweets, and the stories that continue to come out.  That’s because, I am still in shock, I guess.

One recent story is Casey Anthony will have to appear before the glaring lens of the depo-cam in the law office of Morgan and Morgan!  This is in regards to the  civil case filed by Zenaida Gonzales, the person who was originally thought to be the real “Zanny the Nanny,” but was quickly cleared.  To have Casey Anthony in front of the camera for this civil deposition will be huge news, and certainly very interesting.

This Zenaida Gonzales has claimed she lost her good name, her job, her car, and was kicked out of her apartment because of being associated with the disappearance of Caylee.  I don’t have an opinion about this, though I am thankful for Morgan and Morgan for pursuing this case!

The video deposition is scheduled for July 19th; two days after Casey Anthony is released from jail.  The subpoena was delivered to Casey Anthony already.  It’s not clear to me if she can ignore this subpoena or not.  I wouldn’t think so, but one never knows!

The News of Late

The media is telling us, Casey Antony’s jail sentence will end July 17th, on a Sunday versus the original date, July 13th.  The additional four days were added by the Department of Corrections when it was discovered they miscalculated time served.

The costs of the prosecution of Casey Anthony are being calculated by the State Attorney’s Office; HLN reports the numbers could be in the area of $500,000.

Lighting struck a tall tree in the area where Caylee’s remains were found and the TV hosts were all over it, anxious for manic responses like, “It’s a sign, it’s a sign!  God has spoken!”

I don’t mean to belittle any of these kinds of divine intervention beliefs. But I’d be more apt to ask, “If God were to gesture to earthly beings, wouldn’t He want attention to focus on the millions of children suffering in Haiti, Africa, and even in the US, as children are going hungry on our very own soil?”

A darling Caylee, was brutally murdered in Orlando Florida, and the one charged with caring for her will soon be living “La Vida Loca.”  But, our justice system has spoken, though I believe justice got this one wrong.

The jurors are human beings like me and you.  Our world can be unfair; there is injustice everywhere and no where are there easy answers.  It is difficult to rationalize why.

The Jury System – Broken?

There was a dialog in the 1990’s about changing the jury system when the OJ Simpson jurors got it so wrong.  How to revamp the juror system would be a positive dialog to have.

Having regular human beings judge a complicated murder case, where a life is on the line, does not make sense to me.

They are to be the “Trier of Fact” and I believe in the jury system totally and completely, but times have changed.  Trials are sophisticated events.

Jurors are not lawyers, and we expect so much from them.  We expect them to deduce and reason like lawyers, but they are regular folks with regular lives and worries and issues.  They are not active participants in the process, they are passive listeners though we ask them to listen actively.

Active listening is very difficult when it is one-sided.  I am quite sure they  only really heard ten percent of the evidence.

Adults Learning and Listening

There is research into Adult Learning that tells us that human beings can only retain a minimal percentage of what is heard – the percentage is between 2% and 10%.

If you think back to the lectures in high school or college that you listened to – what did you learn, really?  How much of that lecture do you think you retained?

What Jose Baez did with the defense exhibits – using pictures of the evidence and pictures of witnesses, although it seemed really simple, was extremely effective as a learning tool for the jurors, in my opinion.  These exhibits were a sort of “job aid” for the jurors to use to help them frame the concepts of the case in their minds.

There’s a great deal of learning required of jurors during a trial.  But, helping jurors to learn is not the goal of our system of justice.

Courts do not present evidence or testimony from a learning/retention perspective.  But, it would behoove lawyers to use Adult Learning theories in the way they communicate to jurors.

Did Deliberation Occur?

It is being reported that some jurors originally voted for guilt but changed their minds.  Could the bond and the closeness that the jurors formed have anything to do with changing their minds?

I wonder if sequestration for such a long time is detrimental to individual thinking?

And, I wonder if the jurors cared more about each other than they did their duty?

You never can tell what kind of dynamic was at play – group dynamics can be confounding and it would take a strong person to stand alone in such an environment.

There’s that phenomenon called “Groupthink” that could have come into play in the relationship of the jurors as a group. Psychologist Irving Janis, coined the term and defined Groupthink.

I learned about the phenomenon of Gropthink in relation to group dynamics in the workplace, but it can be defined in every group situation.  Fortunately, it is not always present in every group.

Irving Janis defines Groupthink this way:

…occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.”

Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions…

A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.   Source:  Janis, Irving L.  (1972). Victims of Groupthink.

One of the jurors, reportedly, was going to miss a cruise if the jury did not come to a decision by a certain time.  Was this a popular juror in the crowd?  Did the jurors want to be sure to decide quickly to ensure the cruise went as planned?  Maybe.  But, I think Judge Perry would have stepped in to help that situation so the juror did not lose money.

I’m at a loss for answers, but I do realize it’s futile to expect answers as to why justice for Caylee was heinously denied.  Or was it?  Not according to Cheney Mason, Jose Baez, or Dorothy Sims.

This is our system and, like it or not, they will say it worked.

I disagree that the outcome was justice, but I respect it nonetheless and realize that common sense was not common here…

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. offthecuff
    Jul 8 2011

    Good perspective. I too was hoping for some reprieve, that after the verdict, Casey would just go away into whatever world. I could then relax about making sure things were righted.

    But after this verdict, I have felt unrest. Unrest about Casey walking free arm-in-arm with her defense team, who knew, by the way, of her guilt. There is no question of that. Baez, who has been given kudos these last days and who will probably never receive those judicial reprimands cannot possibly believe that Casey was justly released. He has proven that he has no regard for the law and truth, and that he will do anything to get his client off.

    I don’t think Casey will kill again. She will become a starlet living off of her “glory” as long as she can, and as starlet’s do, probably go in and out of relationships until she crashes in some drug rehab. I’d like to think she’d learn and reform, realize the mercy she has received, and have a great life. But then I think of the opening statement…the one she fed to or approved of for Baez. (The one she sat on for 3 years) And then I think this woman is a cannibal. Any change would be a miracle. Letting down her hair is not enough.

    Perhaps jurors should get more training. No one expects them to be rocket scientists, but they are given notepads, have access to evidence, and are allowed to ask questions.

    • Jul 9 2011

      Hi OfftheCuff, you’re not alone in your feeling of unrest. I am still angry about the verdict, but am learning to live with the understanding that the trial is over and there is not a thing we can do about it.

      It won’t be an easy road for Casey when she gets out of prison, I don’t think. Any media outlet paying her for ‘her story” will face instant backlash from its audience. Who knows if they will gamble or not with their reputation on the line.

      She’s a sick girl and, if she recognizes that she needs help, I hope she’ll get it. I hope that maybe she’ll go away and live a quiet live, out of sight of the public. . My feeling is that she’s capable of anything, but with luck (and she seems to have a good deal of luck!), she’ll find the right people to support her – quietly.

      Training for jurors would be problematic in that it wouldn’t be an easy fix since not every person chosen to serve on a jury cares enough to take their civic duty seriously. But I think some form of intervention is needed. I would like to be the one to design some kind of educational module for jurors – certifying them for service as jurors. It would be costly, but the payoff could be worth while in the long run. hmmmm… food for thought!

  2. NancyB
    Jul 9 2011

    Very well said and the adult learning concepts as related to court are excellent. Off the cuff – cannibal is an accurate description.

    • Jul 9 2011

      Thanks, NancyB. I do believe that lawyers would do well to understand how adults learn and process information. Seven or eight hours of constant sitting and listening is a tough burden to place on people. In a learning environment, with adults, to ensure they learn, they become an active participant in the process, versus a passive listener. I am not sure how that would work in a courtroom (engaging jurors), but it’s worth a thought, or two!

  3. Jul 9 2011

    Hi Andrea, I want to thank you for giving so much of your time and talent to your wonderful blog. Each day for the last several years, your thoughts on the Anthony case have helped me better understand this complex case. Today I looked at many of the inspirational categories you have on the blog. Forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, Emily Dickinson, (my favorite poet) and so much more. So much of what I read touched my heart and spirit. In addition, I read your post from March 28, 2011, the George story, sadly is reasonable doubt. Almost all of what you predicated has come to pass. Truly amazing. Andrea, I have felt so down since the verdict was given. I must admit I have shed some tears for Caylee. As time passes this feeling of despair will leave. I hope that Caylee’s Law will be enacted, and we will never see a mother or caregiver get away with not reporting a death or missing child again. For today I thank god for my family, children, grandchildren, and friends. As much as I believe Cindy Anthony contributed to the behaviors of her daughter, my heart goes out to her; none of can imagine the pain she must be in. Casey Anthony cannot blame her parents for the way she turned out. Each of must accept responsibility for our behavior. Will she get the professional help she needs? I pray she will. I still wonder how ninety-five percent of the people polled believe Casey is guilty, and the jury found her not guilty of any crime? Let us hope no one will contribute to the financial gain of Casey or Baez, by buying books or anything they have to sell. God bless you, and all the wonderful friends on this blog.

    • Jul 9 2011

      Thank you for your kind words; it means a great deal to me. I have enjoyed putting my thoughts down about this case. I enjoy the research, too and would love to blog full time, were it not for my real job, I’d be writing all day!
      Anyway, I know how you feel about this verdict – I have had some trouble these last couple of days shaking what feels like depression. Today is better probably because I’ve avoided my computer all day! Although was on my XOOM (it’s a Motorola Tablet – Andriod), and did read a couple of really good articles on “the Daily Beast” One article was by Marcia Clark, OJ Prosecutor. It’s excellent:


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