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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. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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