Your Face Can Determine Your Case's Outcome

During my end of the day internet surf, I came across an article documenting a study finding that individuals with "untrustworthy" faces are more likely to end up on death row compared to other, trustworthy looking people who have been convicted of murder. Although I think there is some merit to the fact that first impressions can drive the subconscious to make a certain decision about a person's fate in a courtroom, I wonder if a person's intent to commit a crime determines their facial expression as opposed to the other way around.

About two or three years ago, I was called into jury duty. It is a rare event for any attorney to make it on to a jury, but nonetheless both Plaintiff's and Defense counsel took the opportunity to make their points with lots of quesitons for me. The case involved a pedestrian who was struck by a vehicle in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Of course, I was quizzed about my bias, and whether working as a personal injury attorney for injured people would affect my decision making. My honest answer was that as younger attorney, that probably would have been true, but after many years of working with injured clients and insurance defense attorneys, my view on claims for injury and compensation had balanced somewhat, and I  had acquired a greater appreciation for the bigger picture.

Predictably, I was promptly booted from the jury. However, I was left within enduring memory of the injured Plaintiff in that case. As I was watching the attorneys ask their questions to the other potential jurors, I took some time to observe the Plaintiff sitting at the counsel table. The one thing I noticed was that she smiled, and she smiled a lot. It was not a contrived smile, but a genuine expression, as far as I could tell, and I admit that it had a positive impact on my impression of this person.

That  observation churned up yet another memory of a personal injury case I tried a few years before. My client was injured in a auto collision, and the trial court judge took great pleasure in asking a lot of questions of the potential jurors. (most judges do not). One juror was a young, fresh faced woman, who sported a permanent, but genuine, smile. The judge commented that people who smile usually get what they want. The other juror panel members laughed, but I think that old saying rang true.

In the end, I guess there are factors that go way beyond the jury instructions, the law, and all the formalities of a trial that influence a juror's decision. After all, those experts say that pure emotion, or the subonsious drives our decisions more than anything else. I wonder if a formal study is required to prove this basic point.

Be the first to comment!
Post a Comment