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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. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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