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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.•

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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. 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.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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