2015 ASTC Convention
Poster Presentation Abstracts

(Author bios are listed below)

Winner:  2015 Student-Authored Poster
Development of the Juror Internet Research Scale (JIRS)

Alexis K. Knutson, Edie Greene, Ph.D., & Robert Durham, Ph.D.
University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Contact:  Alexis Knutson,
aknutso2@uccs.edu, 509.952.9015

Judicial instructions require jurors to refrain from researching details of the trial online. However, researchers have found that jurors do not always follow these instructions. The problems these infractions cause for courts, attorneys, and clients can be significant, and can require judges to issue sanctions ranging from removal from jury service to declaring a mistrial. The Juror Internet Research Scale (JIRS) was developed in an attempt to identify those individuals who will follow judicial instructions and those who are prone to break the rules. Results provide support for the use of the JIRS to distinguish potential jurors who are more or less likely to conduct outside research during a trial, regardless of judicial instructions provided. Trial consultants may use this measure as a tool during voir dire to eliminate jurors especially likely to conduct outside research.

Winner:  2015 Faculty Poster

Interrogation sans Prehabilitation: Honesty-Promoting Change of Venue, Jury Survey, and Voir Dire Questions

Mykol C. Hamilton, Centre College

Kate Zephyrhawke, Hillsborough Community College

Contact: Mykol Hamilton: mykol.hamilton@centre.edu, 859 319-8882

Typically in a change of venue survey for a high pretrial publicity case, jury-eligible respondents are asked whether they believe they would be able to put aside any biasing information they have heard about a case and whether they could assume innocence until the defendant is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Similar questions are often asked in voir dire and jury surveys.  Previous research has shown that the usual wording of such questions places social desirability pressure on respondents to answer in the affirmative regardless of the truth.  To explore the impact of alternative wording for these questions, we analyzed responses to various versions of the questions by 401 jury-eligible adults in a change of venue survey for a Kentucky murder case.  Results suggest that the easier the wording makes it for a potential juror to express doubts about their capacity to put aside all of the publicity they have encountered and to reveal concerns that they might not be capable of presuming innocence until a defendant is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the more honest an accounting the justice system will get.

Juror Perceptions of Women as Expert Witnesses: Suggestions for the Effects of Testimony Complexity, Gender-Intrusive Questioning, and Perceived Credibility

Brittany P. Bate, M.A & Jenna Tomei, M.S.

Sam Houston State University

Contact:  Brittany Bate, bbate@shsu.edu

This poster presents literature pertaining to juror perceptions of testimony of women expert witnesses, compared to men. The literature suggests that juror perceptions of credibility, and thus decision-making, have less to do with qualifications or background and more to do with congruency and stereotyping.  Put bluntly, a possible reason for often seen lower credibility ratings of female expert witnesses in comparison to men is that society continues to hold an expectation of men as being the appropriate sex to be in positions of authority and influence, suggesting that sexism is alive and well in mock jurors. The reviewed research suggests several important areas that women as expert witnesses need to be particularly cognizant of.  For example, taken cumulatively, research suggests that female experts are most credible when the evidence they present is less complex, and sometimes gain an advantage over their male counterparts when testimony is presented in such a manner. In addition, as women are increasingly becoming victims of personally-intrusive cross-examination, it is important for female experts to be appropriately assertive in denying personally-intrusive questioning as opposed to giving a submissive, or purposefully avoidant, response.

The Influence of Interpreted Testimony on Mock Jurors’ Decisions
and Perceptions of Criminal Defendants

Jason M. Lawrence, Jorge G. Varela, Miguel Arellano, Kelsey Laxton, Scholar Colbourn, Carla Munoz, & Helene Barrera

Sam Houston State University

Contact:  Jason Lawrence,  jml057@shsu.edu


Hispanics in the United States may face significant obstacles in the criminal justice system. In addition, Hispanics who are limited in their English proficiency require an interpreter for legal proceedings. The present study analyzed the effect of an interpreter on juror perceptions of a defendant in a criminal case. Participants were asked to respond to a hypothetical case describing a sexual assault prosecution that varied between groups along two dimensions—ethnicity of the defendant and language of the defendant’s testimony. Results suggest that giving testimony through an interpreter may have significant effects on juror decision-making of the defendant.

Improving juror comprehension: Reading while listening 

Janet Randall, Northeastern University

Katherine B. Fiallo, Northeastern University School of Law

Contact: Janet Randall, j.randall@neu.edu, (617) 510-9550


A growing problem confronts US courtrooms: though all citizens over 18 qualify as jurors, jury instructions are often incomprehensible, especially to those with little education or rudimentary English.  This excludes many jurors from equal participation but, worse, has led to misinformed verdicts. Many states are now taking action and a Massachusetts Bar Association Task Force -- aided by linguistics -- is joining them. The study reported here investigates the difficulties posed by jury instructions and possible solutions. Replicating research by Randall (2013) and Randall & Graf (2014), in two experimental studies we test the hypotheses that: [1] Massachusetts current jury instructions are harder to comprehend than “Plain English” versions and [2] the difficulties relate to linguistic features of the instructions. But here we add a third hypothesis: [3] reading while listening will improve comprehension over listening alone.  Our three hypotheses were confirmed: Legal language can be made more comprehensible:  if it is rewritten in Plain English; if complex linguistic factors – specifically, passives and legalese are minimized; and, if subjects can read the text of the instructions as they listen to them. Though our student subjects showed only modest comprehension improvements when we made the necessary changes to our instructions, we expect to see greater improvements for jurors, who have less formal education and fewer language skills. Overall, our studies provide support for Plain English efforts to reform legal language. Rewriting jury instructions into Plain English would improve justice by helping jurors to better understand the law and reach more reliable, and ultimately fairer, verdicts.

Contemporary Issues in Jury Research:
Maximizing Ecological Validity as a Trial Consultant 

Jenna Tomei, M.S., Robert J. Cramer, Ph.D., & Brittany P. Bate, M.A.

Sam Houston State University

Contact:  Jenna Tomei, M.S., jlt046@shsu.edu,  (936) 294-2435

A jury’s task is to make a social judgment based upon the evidence at hand and the personal belief system each juror brings to the deliberation. As such, much research has been devoted to testing how jurors view different courtroom elements and what juror characteristics are at play in decision making. Yet, literature suggests studies simulating the jury process may possess limited generalizability to real world situations, or lack ecological validity. Based on a review of the literature, researchers studying psycholegal phenomenon should make all efforts to maximize the ecological validity and applicability of findings by adapting their participant sample and methods to closely relate to the reality of the courtroom, including: attempting to use jury-eligible citizens, from a variety of geographic regions, assessing individual personality characteristics prior to exposure to stimulus materials, using live presentation or video recordings, rendering individual verdicts consistent with the legal question jurors will be asked in court, and rendering group verdicts.

Poster Author Bios

Miguel Arellano, B.A., is a master’s student in the Psychology program at Sam Houston State University.

Helene Barrera is an undergraduate student in Psychology at Sam Houston State University.

Brittany Bate is a doctoral student studying Clinical Psychology with a forensic emphasis at Sam Houston State University. Research interests include jury perceptions and decision-making, expert witness testimony, and LGBT/hate crime issues. As an intern at Veritas Research in Houston, Ms. Bate has assisted in SJQ preparation/review, numerous mock trials, and contributed to various final work products for clients. You can see more information concerning Ms. Bate’s educational background and research interests at http://www.shsu.edu/~clinpsy/PhD2ndYRstudents.html

Scholar Colbourn, M.A., is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at Sam Houston State University. Her research and practice interests include adolescent substance abuse, incarcerated mentally ill, juvenile offending, juvenile risk Assessment, and competency to stand trial.

Robert Durham has been a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado—Colorado Springs for 43 years. He has taught a variety of topics, many centering on methodological issues (e.g., program evaluation, research design, multivariate statistics, and psychometric theory). He has authored/co-authored over 90 publications and presentations.  

Katherine Fiallo is originally from Miami, Florida, and attended Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts for her undergraduate degree. She received a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs, focusing on economically at-risk European Union countries, and terrorism and security studies. She currently attends law school at Northeastern University School of Law, and will be working at the Massachusetts Office of the State Attorney during Summer 2015. In her free time, she is a competitive ballroom dancer. 

Edie Greene is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Graduate Subplan in Psychology and Law at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She is lead author of Psychology and the Legal System (2014) and Determining Damages: The Psychology of Jury Awards (2003) and is at work on a co-authored book entitled The Jury under Fire: Myth, Controversy, and Reform. She has published approximately 80 articles on legal decision making in scholarly journals, law reviews, or edited books.

Mykol Hamilton is a Professor of Psychology at Centre College in Danville, KY.  She has ten years' experience in trial consulting, specializing in COV surveys and jury selection (search Hamilton Zephyrhawke Trial Consulting online).  Her research on "prehabilitation" (a term coined in her research lab) was published in the August 2014 issue of The Jury Expert.  She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University and her MA and PhD in Social Psychology at UCLA.

Alexis Knutson earned a Master of Arts degree in psychological science with an emphasis in psychology and law from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in May 2015. She will join Tsongas Litigation Consulting as a Research Associate this summer. Her professional interests include research design, civil litigation, jury decision making, and juror use of social media and the internet during trial.

Jason Lawrence, M.A., is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at Sam Houston State

University. His research and practice interests in psychology and law include, mock juror decision making, culturally diverse populations, language and translational issues, forensic assessment, and trial consultation.

Kelsey L. Laxton, M.A., is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at Sam Houston State University. Her research and practice interests in psychology and law include public policy, mock juror decision making and research, culturally diverse populations, ethics, forensic assessment, and trial consultation.

Carla Munoz, M.A., is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program at Sam Houston State University. Her research and practice interests include forensic assessment, psychopathy, ideology of terrorism, multicultural issues in assessment and treatment of offenders, and jury selection.

Janet Randall, PhD, randall@neu.edu, is a Professor in the Linguistics Program and English Department at Northeastern University in Boston.  A specialist in semantic and syntactic structure, her 2010 book, Linking: the Geometry of Argument Structure, explores of the inner workings of verb meanings, focusing on how the conceptual building blocks inside verbs map onto syntactic forms and determine the structure of sentences.  She has studied how verbs are acquired by children, to tease apart which elements of verbs meanings are innate -- in our linguistic blueprint – and which are acquired through experience.  In her most recent work, with the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Plain English Jury Instruction Project, Randall and her team of Northeastern students are testing the properties of legal language that make it difficult to understand, to help the Mass Bar in its efforts to revise the state’s jury instructions.  In addition to Plain English, Randall has consulted with lawyers on many semantic and syntactic matters including plagiarism, ambiguity in contracts, author identification, trademarks, intellectual property, and other linguistic matters.

Jenna Tomei, M.S. is a doctoral student studying Clinical Psychology with a forensic emphasis at Sam Houston State University. Research interests include jury perceptions and decision-making, expert witness testimony, forensic assessment, juvenile delinquency, and LGBT/hate crime issues. With experience through Veritas Research, Courtroom Sciences, Inc., and Westlake Trial Consulting, Ms. Tomei has assisted in several mock trials, aided in developing empirically-based jury selection questionnaires, and contributed to various final work products for clients. You can see more information concerning Ms. Tomei’s educational background and research interests at http://www.shsu.edu/~clinpsy/PhD3rdYRstudents.html. 

Jorge G. Varela, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy at Sam Houston State University.  His research interests lie at the intersection of forensic psychology and cultural diversity as well as psychology and law enforcement.  In addition, Dr. Varela teaches doctoral-level multicultural psychology and clinical practicum as well as undergraduate courses in abnormal psychology and psychology and law.  His practice includes forensic assessment and risk assessment among sexual offenders.

Kate Zephyrhawke is a jury consultant with Hamilton Zephyrhawke Trial Consultants, with expertise in persuasion techniques, change of venue surveys, and witness interview techniques.  She also teaches English and Composition at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida.  Her English Literature BA is from UC Berkeley, and she has Master’s degrees in Rhetoric (University of South Florida), Psychology (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology), and Mass Communications (San Jose State University).


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