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Book review: 'Judge the Jury' looks at juror handwriting

Rodney Nordstrom
December 21, 2011
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Indiana Lawyer Commentary

The trial consultant has many tools at his disposal for selecting desirable jurors. A consultant, with knowledge of human decision making, gives the attorney a distinct advantage in the courtroom. The more information counsel receives about a prospective juror, the better prepared he is to make intelligent and reliable decisions on who is best to sit in judgment of the case.

In addition to both psychological and sociological characteristics of a potential juror, body language, facial characteristics and handwriting samples are variables the consultant can consider. Graphoanalysis is just another of the many tools available to a trial attorney when selecting the right juror for the case, so claims Alice Weiser in her book Judge The Jury. Weiser has been a full-time graphoanalyst since 1978. In 1995, she was selected as International Graphoanalyst of the Year. According to her biography, she has assisted in more than 100 jury trials and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs.

Although not typically used by trial attorneys during voir dire, handwriting samples become an effective diagnostic tool when used via the juror questionnaire and analyzed by a trained examiner. Having more samples of a potential juror’s penmanship increases the confidence of whom to reject or select. Like body language, to a trained observer, a person’s penmanship can be used to tell if a person is a good listener or easily distracted, introverted or extroverted, emotional or intellectual, detail-oriented or looks at life as a big picture.

The success of any selection endeavor depends on a consultant’s breadth and depth of experiences. Although life experiences are the best predictor of verdict outcome, using stereotyping as a basis for jury selection is considerably less accurate. Like stereotyping, graphoanalysis is an over simplification of a very complex human dynamic and caution must be taken when using these techniques as a basis for selecting or de-selecting a juror.

Weiser’s paperback book consists of 10 chapters (220 pages) and retails for $19.95, but I got my copy from Amazon.com for about $6. Chapter 1 is an introduction to courtroom practice including definitions of common legal terms. It also offers a sample of specific voir dire questions for cases involving sexual harassment, wrongful termination, tax evasion and personal injury, and it identifies juror characteristics thought to be favorable to the prosecution, e.g., primarily authoritarians but also female, advanced education and a renter. Chapter 2 expands on the first chapter by challenging the reader’s understanding of commonly held beliefs via a short quiz, e.g., accident victims rarely award more than they themselves received in a settlement (false); bartenders have heard everything and generally can tell when someone is lying (true).

Chapter 3 is devoted to handwriting self-analysis. Specific use of margins, spacing and size are discussed. Chapter 4 is a detailed analysis of individual letter formation – crossing “t”s and dotting “i”s. Chapter 5 analyzes doodles, and Chapter 6 deals with face reading. Body language is discussed in Chapter 7, and Chapter 8 is more about face reading. Chapter 9 is birth order personality typing, and the last chapter has to do with lie detection relying on the interpretations of body language.

The downside to the book is that the author offers no supporting studies for her matter-of-fact suppositions and wide-sweeping generalizations. Graphoanalysis remains a pseudo-respectable tool among trial consultants ranking it slightly above astrology, palm reading and phrenology. Although serious questions remain about both validity and reliability, few of us would refuse to admit that a mean glare or angry crossed arms means nothing. Yes, I use graphoanalysis on complex cases where I have a lengthy questionnaire and even on occasion when I have contradictory feelings about which of two remaining jurors I should select. Weiser states that handwriting is something you can’t change no matter how you feel, adding, “The way a person signs his name tells you how they feel about themselves” (but little about the case).

The book is a quick read and the trial attorney will likely benefit from it. I particularly liked the use of quick and simple checklists, and sample voir dire questions such as “What section of the newspaper do you like to read first?” If they answer “front page” they can be described as wanting quick summaries of facts, they rarely investigate the facts and are worriers. If they pick the “horoscope” section, they have an external locus of control. Another strength is the checklist for juror suggestibility. This checklist involves certain juror behaviors indicating when a particular juror is “connecting with you.”

Although the topic of graphoanalysis has relevancy to jury selection, it is ironic that the most interesting aspects of this book are unrelated to this topic. The jury is still out when it comes to assessing the strategic advantage of graphoanalysis as a tool for selecting jurors; but don’t you want to give your client every possible advantage? Graphoanalysis has not been fully embraced by all trial consultants, yet remains an intriguing topic needing further empirical research and evaluation.•

__________

Rodney Nordstrom, Ph.D., J.D.
is a trial consultant with his company Litigation Simulation Services located in Peoria, Ill. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. Such things are no more elections than those in the late, unlamented Soviet Union.

  2. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  3. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  4. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  5. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

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