Dr. Ken Manges Ph.D. | Forensic Psychologist |Expert Witness

Voir Dire Theme Development Fact Sheet

In order for people to make sense of the world around them, they often use stories to organize events and give them structure. Jurors in a courtroom is not any different, for the attitudes and experiences they bring with them play a role in determining the types of stories they construct to better understand the facts and arguments presented at trial.

Differences in jurors’ reactions to a case stem from preexisting differences among the jurors.

From the jurors’ point of view, trials are organized around storytelling.

Jurors seek to organize the information into a story of what they think happened.

Jurors create stories using:

  • Trial evidence
  • World knowledge about similar events
  • Knowledge about story structure

Both civil and criminal lawyers may best serve their clients by representing their case in the form of a story. Jurors may, in turn, rely on these stories to make sense of what they hear at trial.

Your theme must be easily understood and believable to the jury

A story model proposes that jurors follow 3 steps:

  • Evaluating the evidence and constructing a story or stories to make sense of the evidence
  • Learning the attributes of the different verdict choices
  • Reaching a verdict by deciding which verdict category described by the court renders the best match with the constructed story

Verdicts are often made in favor of the side whose presentation of evidence most closely resembled the jurors’ story sequence.

Individual juror characteristics, attitudes, and personality may not directly impact verdicts; however, they made different stories more or less believable to a given juror (Huntley, & Costanzo, 2003).

Verdicts are based on analysis of lawyers’ stories as supported by the evidence and testimony.

Evidence is one of the more important factors in determining the outcome of a case. The more facts and evidence you have to use for themes, the better able you will be to present a compelling story.

Once plaintiff and defense prototypes for a case are understood, you can compare the facts and evidence of your case to model stories. If the evidence in your case will prevent you from presenting a strong model defense story, you may want to avoid litigation through settlement.

A case should be more visible the closer you can argue a story model supporting your position, and the more model themes you have, the more persuasive the story will be to the jury.

The lawyer who can tell the most believable story using the case facts in full context will make the most sense to the jury thereby becoming more persuasive.

Stories you provide serve a descriptive and analytic function in juror decision making.

Stories help jurors’ decision making by:

  • Isolating the central act of the story
  • Connecting the elements of the story to the central act
  • Providing a process for evaluating the story for consistency and completeness.

You can use your opening and closing arguments to construct stories for the jury.

For References used in this fact sheet, please contact Dr. Manges & Associates, Inc. at 513.784.1333.

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