Presented to you by Los Angeles criminal defense attorney,
Robert Helfend

America is the land of the free, the land where the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Psychology and our legal system often intersect in more ways than one thinks. The field of forensic evidence continues to advance, allowing for strong, cold objective truths, based on testing and intended for presentation at trials. However, psychology often impacts the interpretation of this evidence and overall results of the trial.

The forensics is the results of testing and presented during a trial. But, one of the main components of what can determine the results of the trial may boil down to psychology.

In selecting the proper juror, how a person thinks, how they process or interpret information, and what lies within a person’s subconscious impacts their decision making, in turn affecting the overall jury composition. The jury selection process is intricate and complex. Both the prosecution and defense select jury members. They often use jury consultants to help them ask potential jurors the right questions to predict their likelihood to favor a respective side. The potential jurors are asked about their personalities, experiences, attitudes, education, and previous knowledge of other cases. In some cases, a questioner is drafted and distributed to potential jurors. During the questionnaire process, the candidates are closely analyzed to see their reaction to the questions. Every little action is monitored from their head nods to the speed they answer the question.

However, the main aspect of a trial is the jury. As impartial as the jury is expected to be, to what extent can one expect the average citizen selected for jury duty to not let their personal beliefs and subconscious affect what they decide? So, are jury trials fair? How many different factors can influence the decision-making?

Racial discrimination has been a problem since the age of time. As much as we would like to think this is an issue of the past, it is all too prevalent in modern society. The accused person on trial may be black and one of the jury members a racist. The jury selection process tries to avoid someone like this being selected for jury service, but sometimes people slip through the cracks.

Improper conduct is of course not allowed in the courtroom, however sometimes during these cases tensions run high and a witness or maybe the accused, has an outburst. When this happens the judge usually tells the jury to ignore the flare-up and not let it impact their decision-making. But how often can a human just erase the past five minutes of their life? The brain is not trained to do this, and your mind will react to the scenario.

Forensic psychology plays a significant role in criminal trials. When a witness or even defendant is put on the stand, the person’s memory is definitely not infallible. Psychologists can attest to the human mind and memory as being easily swayed by the subjectivity of the questions being asked. The human memory is extremely prone to bias and intentional clues by investigators. This can directly affect their testimony, and therefore, the overall trial.

The insanity defense allows a person who is mentally ill to avoid being imprisoned for a crime when they had no ability to distinguish right from wrong. Studies show surprisingly high rates of psychiatric illness in the prison population. Prior to a jury trial, when a possible mental deficiency is raised by the defense, the court will appoint a psychiatrist for the prosecution and the defense to test if the defendant is sane or not.

When a defendant has a jury trial on whether they were legally insane at the time of the crime, juries are presented with these psychiatric reports detailing the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the crime. The jury must analyze the legitimacy of the defendant’s lack of ability to understand and resist the crime and render their verdict.


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