So what does that mean for juries?

September 20, 2012

photo by Colin Whittaker (

Today’s New York Times carried an op-ed by Cass Sunstein, Harvard Law Professor and LOTL contributor (see his Inquiring Minds post). Sunstein collects studies of opinion and polarization and argues that contrary to conventional wisdom, hearing a balanced argument actually leads to people to become even more set in their beliefs.

You might expect that people’s views would soften and that divisions between groups would get smaller. That is not what usually happens. On the contrary, people’s original beliefs tend to harden and the original divisions typically get bigger. Balanced presentations can fuel unbalanced views.

What might this mean for people entering the jury box?  Lawyers and judges generally try to pick a jury of people without strongly formed opinions of a case.  But we all bring our biases to bear in hearing a case. So does hearing two sides of the story not actually help jurors come to the right conclusion (whatever that may be)?