The early jury films typically portray the jury as a passive group of men who simply watch the trial with little reaction. They are meant to stand in for the viewer. The viewer, like the jury, is supposed to reach a verdict as to the defendant’s guilt or innocence. There are a few exceptions to this traditional portrayal of the jury. The exceptions involve a holdout juror who is dissatisfied with the verdict and conducts his or her own investigation. The most well known jury film, 12 Angry Men, which aired in 1957, marks a departure from these traditional and exceptional portrayals of a jury. This film is an outlier in the annals of jury films because it shows the jury at work; all the action takes place as the jury deliberates in the jury room. It also depicts an unusual scenario in which a single juror is able to stand up against the other 11 jurors and ultimately persuade them to change their votes. One reason this film has endured is that it depicts an individual’s uphill battle against a group. Another reason is that the plot has been incorporated into episodes of popular television shows so that new generations of viewers learn about it. There have been only a few modern films that focus on the jury. Some of these films return to the theme of the holdout juror who carries out a subsequent investigation to uncover the truth, whereas others show a juror who engages in misconduct or self-help in the face of a defendant who has abused the trial process. Although the focus on the holdout juror in many of these films, both old and new, provides drama, holdout jurors are hard to find in actual jury trials, especially when there are just one or two jurors who are holdouts.
Charles W. Choi
An intergroup perspective in the legal context highlights the influence of group membership on the interaction between authorities and citizens. Social identity influences communication both in the field (e.g., police–civilian) and in the courtroom (e.g., juror deliberation). The research in the law enforcement context addresses trust in police officers, the communication accommodation between police and civilians, sociodemographic stereotypes impacting police–civilian encounters, the role of police media portrayals, and its influence on intergroup exchanges between police and civilians. Juries are inextricably influenced by group membership cues (e.g., race and gender), and differentiate those in the ingroup over the outgroup. The impact of stereotypes and intergroup bias is evident in the literature on jury decisions and the severity of punitive sentencing. These and other factors make the intergroup nature of the legal context significant, and they determine the interconnection between the parties involved. Specifically, the social identity approach brings focus to the biases, attributions, and overall evaluations of the perceived outgroup. The research indicates that diversity is necessary to alleviate the intergroup mindset, thereby encouraging a more interindividual viewpoint of those outgroup members.
Prosecutors and members of law enforcement have complained that television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation have cultivated in jurors’ unreasonable expectations about forensic evidence, specifically that jurors require definitive forensic proof of guilt, or else they will wrongly acquit. This is popularly known as “CSI Effect.” Despite the popularity of this belief, there is little empirical evidence substantiating it. In fact, the majority of studies exploring CSI Effects have found evidence supporting a variety of impacts that advantage, rather than disadvantage, the prosecution. For instance, these programs frame forensics as objective and virtually infallible, bolster forensic technicians and the value of evidence associated with them, and promote schema that endorse prosecution narratives. Indeed, it appears that among CSI’s most salient impacts on the legal system comes not from these television programs distorting juror decision-making, but because lawyers and judges mistakenly believe such an effect exists, and, therefore, alter their behavior in response. It thus appears that the realities of the CSI Effect are quite different than the persistent mythology of it.
Christina L. Boyd and Adam G. Rutkowski
Trial court judges are often referred to as the workhorses of the judicial system. This is unsurprising given that millions of civil and criminal cases are filed and resolved in U.S. state and federal trial courts each year. Very few of these cases ever reach appellate courts, meaning that trial courts are often the first and only court with which people directly interact. At the same time, trial courts can make local and national policy, both in individual cases and in the aggregate. This important role of trial courts and their actors has not gone unnoticed by scholars across social science disciplines. One can consider trial courts in a broad sense by tracking the historical developments that led to the trial courts in the United States. As caseloads have increased, trial courts—particularly those with specialized jurisdictions—have been created out of necessity. State trial courts feature variation in their judicial selection methods, including elections and appointments. At the federal level, increased polarization has led to contentious partisan confirmation battles for federal trial court judges. Trials are a rare occurrence, with plea agreements and settlements being the most frequent methods of resolving cases. To understand trial court actor behavior, it is important to remember that state and federal trial courts sit at the bottom of their judicial hierarchies. The preferences of their hierarchical superiors, along with the presence of high trial court caseloads and the rarity of trials, rein in judges’ discretion and the potential effects of their personal characteristics and attitudes. Because of these judge constraints, actors such as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and juries play a significant role in trial court outcomes. As the literature reveals, the “repeat players” in trial courts hold significant advantages over less experienced litigants and attorneys that affect their likelihood of gaining favorable outcomes, among other things. Race and gender of these actors can have significant effects on behavior in certain types of cases. There are many hurdles that remain for scholars seeking to study trial courts. For example, state trial courts, in particular, continue to be difficult to study empirically. This is due largely to a lack of data availability. Relatedly, scholars must continue to strive to find ways to study trial court outcomes and events that do not lead to published opinions—for example settlements, plea bargains, prosecutorial declinations, and many decided motions. Each of these involves important decisions and outcomes that affect parties and may be affected by judges and lawyers.
American courtroom films depicting criminal trials have long resonated with audiences around the world, including viewers in countries whose legal systems are very different from those portrayed in the films. Three principal factors account for the broad popularity of these films. 1. Flexibility of the genre: The crimes with which defendants are charged can be carried out in an infinite number of ways and for an infinite variety of motives. Stories can be comedies or dramas; real or fictional; and “who-dunits,” “why-dunits,” or “how-dunits.” 2. The adversary system of trial: The American adversary system of trial is made to order for screenwriters. The question-and-answer format produces verbal duels between lawyers and witnesses that often result in surprise evidence, sudden plot twists, and in-your-face comeuppances. While the nominal targets of the testimony and the arguments are the jurors who are frequently present, the jurors are proxies for the writers’ ultimate targets, the viewers. 3. Subject matter: Defendants in courtroom films are typically charged with murder or other forms of serious crime, topics to which viewers in all countries can easily relate. For individual courtroom films, the “moment of truth” typically occurs when viewers find out whether a defendant is innocent or guilty. But for the courtroom genre as a whole, “moments of truth” consist of the “macro lessons” that courtroom films “teach” to viewers about the American system of criminal justice. Most viewers, regardless of where they live, have had little or very little exposure to actual criminal trials. For most people, what they think they know about American criminal justice is based on the images of law, lawyers, and criminal justice portrayed in courtroom films.