Persuasion Matters

Cufflinks with the words Guilty and Not Guilty

Verdict? Allen Charge? Mistrial? One Crazy Day in the John Edwards Trial.

What a chaotic day in the John Edwards corruption trial.  Judge Eagles announced around 3pm EST that the jury had reached a verdict.  Only, it hadn’t.  Not really.

According to news sources, the jury sent Judge Eagles a note stating that they had reached a verdict.  What they failed to include in the note was the fact that they reached a verdict on Count Three only; the other remaining five counts were still undecided.  So, the news of a verdict spread like wild fire through the media… only to come to a screeching halt minutes later.  Ooops.

So what’s a judge to do?  Defense attorneys asked for a mistrial.  Prosecutors asked for an Allen charge.  Ultimately, Judge Eagles opted for the latter and instructed jurors to continue deliberating on the remaining five charges.

The media immediately morphed into its “psychic-tea-reading-jury-mind-reader” frame of mind.  What did the jury decide on Count Three?  What will they do on the remaining Counts?  Will there be a hung jury?

We can put our collective educated heads together and talk until the cows come home.  But the only people who know what the jurors are thinking are the jurors themselves.

Even though jurors reached a unanimous verdict on Count Three (which, by the way, is the count related to Bunny Mellon’s money contributions), but they were clearly at odds over the five remaining counts.

One has to wonder: how will the judge’s instruction to continue deliberating impact the process and the end result?

Nobody but the panel knows how votes lined up on the remaining five charges.  Were jurors split down the middle with their guilty/not-guilty votes?  How many holdouts were there?  Five?  Three?  One?  This matters.  A lot.

While I’ve yet to experience what it’s like to serve and deliberate on an actual jury, I’ve seen more than my fair share of mock jury deliberations and have more post-trial interviews than I can count.  One thing is certain:  it takes a strong juror to be a holdout in a group of twelve… and an even stronger juror if he’s the lone wolf.

There’s plenty of research to support the science behind group dynamics, but suffice it to say that holding a minority opinion is much easier when there are a few others in the minority group.  It makes perfect sense: we band together with like minds and become a stronger collective voice.  Sometimes, if the minority voice is strong enough (and respected enough within the group), the minority voices can actually convince majority voices to switch teams.  (And FYI?  “Minority” in no way, shape or form refers to race, gender, ethnicity or age.  It’s referring to the opinion or belief held by a juror: the vote of guilty vs. not guilty.)

Hanging on to a minority opinion, however, becomes a much harder task when your advocates and fellow minorities jump ship and swim toward the majority side.  As the number of minority voices decrease, the persuasive power of that minority opinion is often diminished and sometimes, the very folks who once supported the minority opinion begin to question the logic and basis for the very viewpoint they once held.  The effect?  Oftentimes, a sea of self-doubt and frustration overcome the minority opinion-holders.  And sometimes?  It pushes them to the point of waving the while flag and just plain giving up.

As the deliberation process continues, both minority and majority voices will continue to be heard.  And who knows?  Minorities may become majorities… or majorities may become minorities.  In fact, after more discussions, perhaps the verdict on Count Three will change as well.

After nine days of deliberating, I have no doubt jurors have been working extremely hard to reach a unanimous agreement on all six counts.  Can they actually do it?  It all depends on the minority voice.  Will they hold firm, alter majority views in favor of their opinion, or acquiesce to the majority vote?

Only time will tell.


 Jurors unanimously found John Edwards not guilty on Count Three, and were deadlocked on the remaining five counts.  Judge Eagles has granted a mistrial on the remaining five counts.  Apparently, the minority voice held firm…  

This post was originally written before the mistrial was granted.  


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