Want a mock decision? Then use a mock trial


“I remember Mattingburg’s most famous case: the case of the bloody knife. A man was found next to a murdered body, he had the knife in his hand, thirteen witnesses that seen him stab the victim, when the police arrived he said, “I’m glad I killed the bastard.” Mattingburg not only got him off; he got him knighted in the New Year’s Honors list; and the relatives of the victim had to pay to have the blood washed out of his jacket.”

Blackadder VI, Episode 2

In the crime section of the A2 course we study the psychology of the court room and look at the variables that could effect a juries decision and perception of the case that’s being presented.

One of the big issues in the UK when studying the psychology of the courtroom is that of ecological validity. In the UK it is illegal to speak to jury members while the trail is in progress, also there are many rules surrounding the reporting of trials and no recording equipment is allowed in the courtroom. Therefore, many studies have used different ways to research courtroom behaviour. The two strategies used most are mock trials and shadow juries, both have their limitations.

Mock trials are re-enactments of a courtroom in which participants will take part in a staged trial, each taking a different role, jury member, judge etc. A shadow jury is a group of people who will sit in (usually in the public gallery) on a real-life trial and make their decisions based on what they see.

There has recently been an article discussing the effectiveness of mock trials which centers around the idea that mock trials can’t predict the true outcome of the ‘real’ case, and points to many reasons why using mock trials is very problematic:

” … It’s obvious that mock trials aren’t predictive, if you think about it even briefly. The list of variables you can’t control in a mock trial includes practically every aspect of the exercise:

  • The judge, who often will have a huge influence on the real trial, won’t be there.
  • One legal team will be entirely different and the other probably won’t exactly match the real trial.
  • While lawyers are typically so competitive that both sides try hard in a mock trial, the incentive for the “opponent” to win is different from the real thing.
  • The mock jury usually won’t hear (and thus won’t like, dislike, or be confused by) live witnesses in the presentation phase of the mock trial.
  • The lawyers will condense their presentation of evidence and documents — which will almost certainly improve the presentation, but also make it different from a “real” trial.
  • The jurors’ relationships with each other and group dynamic will be different after a shorter trial.

Most important, even if you could control for everything else, the real trial will have different jurors. The groups are too small to ever be statistically predictable. In our mock trials we usually have three juries, who by definition have all heard exactly the same presentation. Almost never do all three juries rule for the same party.” [quote]

Therefore, this calls into question any findings from research using mock trials and conclusions should be taken into account when discussing the usefulness of that research. For more on mock trials and some of the reasons why they should be used pop over and read the ‘Mock trials for the wrong reasons‘ article.

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2 Responses to “Want a mock decision? Then use a mock trial”

  1. Leanne November 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    I found this really helpful for an assignment i’m doing at the moment. I am critically evaluating an article that uses a mock-trial method. I was wondering if you knew of any alternatives to this method?

  2. Jamie Davies August 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    You could use a shadow jury rather than a mock trial.

    There’s a discussion on the relative merits of different methods here.

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