Thursday, April 21, 2011

Growing Nose, Pants on Fire, or What?

Pinocchio cartoon
You can easily tell when Pinocchio is lying because his nose grows longer. But it's a lot harder with flesh-and-blood people.

A recent article in a psychology journal reviews the literature and explains why many standard "rules" are basically hooey. People who are lying don't fidget or avert their gaze more than others, for instance.

The authors go on to propose interviewing techniques for spotting lies. They say it's better to use an information-gathering approach than an accusatory approach. Among other things, they encourage asking temporal questions, using evidence strategically, and asking questions to increase the potential liar's cognitive load (i.e., make it harder for the liar to keep his or her story straight).

Aldert Vrij, Pär Anders Granhag & Stephen Porter, Pitfalls and Opportunities in Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol. 11 no. 3, at 89-121.

Elizabeth F. Loftus has a brief editorial introducing this article: Catching Liars, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol. 11 no. 3, at 87-88. One interesting observation, of concern for social justice as well as spotting individual lies:
Using gaze aversion to decide that someone is lying can be dangerous for that someone’s health and happiness. And—what was news to me—some cultural or ethnic groups are more likely to show gaze aversion. For example, Blacks are particularly likely to show gaze aversion. So imagine now the problem that might arise when a White police officer interviews a Black suspect and interprets the gaze aversion as evidence of lying. This material needs to be put in the hands of interviewers to prevent this kind of cross-racial misinterpretation.
It's interesting to me that, steeped in social psychology as she is, Loftus hadn't before focused on cultural differences like this.

(I'm currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, which piles layer upon layer of incidents when African Americans were slapped down–in small ways and large–for failing to look away and defer to anyone in power, so it's not at all surprising that Blacks would "show gaze aversion." I'm also reminded the passage in David Copperfield, which I just read, where the toadying Uriah Heep explained that his family had been taught "a deal of umbleness--not much else that I know of, from morning to night. We was to be umble to this person, and umble to that; and to pull of our caps here, and to make bows there; and alwasy to knowo our place, and abase ourselves before our betters. And we had such a lot of betters!" It's hard to like Heep, but this passage explained that his damage had causes beyond himself. Heep often was lying, of course, but you couldn't have told that by his "umbleness" alone.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Defense Attorney Profile

This morning's Seattle Times has a front-page profile of attorney Eric Lindell. Ken Armstrong, West Seattle attorney takes difficult cases -- and wins | Seattle Times Newspaper, April 17, 2011.

Lindell's career has focused on criminal defense, first with SCRAP and then in private practice. One case discussed is an appeal currently pending in the Washington Supreme Court challenging the statute that allows propensity evidence in sexual abuse cases (RCW 10.58.090). See earlier post about this case in Division I.

The article discusses several other cases in which Lindell represented criminal defendants. And there's one case where his work on behalf of a private client led to a successful prosecution. A child had drowned when in the care of her stepfather. Investigators originally ruled it an accident, but the mother thought her husband had killed the little girl. Lindell's work on a wrongful death suit (that was dropped) led to the prosecution and conviction of the stepfather -- the justice the mother wanted.

How Do People Find Lawyers?

The ABA's Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services commissioned a survey to learn how people find lawyers and, when they don't use lawyers, how they find legal information: Perspectives on Finding Personal Legal Services: The Results of a Public Opinion Poll, Feb. 2011.

For summaries see How People Find Lawyers: Referrals Are Popular, Blogs Not So Much, Poll Finds, ABA J. online, March 23, 2011; How People Find Lawyers, Gallagher Blogs, March 25, 2011.

People are more likely to use the Internet than the Yellow Pages now, but the dominant way of finding lawyers is still personal referral.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Has the Judge Eaten?

cartoon of sandwich and orangeA caricature of Legal Realism is that it says that outcomes depend on "what the judge had for breakfast." A new study looks not at what judges ate but when they ate.

Shai Danzigera, Jonathan Levavb & Liora Avnaim-Pessoa, Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions, Proceedings of the Nat'l Acad. of Sci. Early Ed. (published online before print), April 11, 2011, PDF (UW restricted), abstract (UW restricted). News stories: Facing a judge? Study says go early or after lunch,, April 11, 2011; Hunger Affects Court Rulings?, PRI's The World, April 11, 2011 (radio interview).
The authors examined 1,112 parole rulings by 8 Israeli judges during 50 court days over 10 months. Each day included a late-morning snack break (usually a sandwich and fruit) and a lunch break. The judges did not control the order of the cases that came before them, and they didn't know the content of each case until it was presented. Again and again, it turned out that prisoners whose cases were heard first thing in the morning or shortly after one of the breaks. The stats are striking: graph shows jump in favorable outcomes for prisoners after each meal break The authors didn't ask the judges whether having a snack (or meal) simply put them in a better mood and made them more sympathetic to parole petitions. Perhaps there's an effect due to mental fatigue in doing repeated tasks or low blood glucose levels as the court session wears on.

Graphics: (1) sandwich and fruit by mw; (2) graph, showing jump in favorable decisions after each break, from article.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Empirical Legal Studies

Empirical legal studies uses social science tools to examine law and legal institutions. These tools can include:

How can you learn about this diverse field? What are the leading works, what organizations work in the area, where are there standard datasets to use? A librarian at Fordham has prepared an excellent guide: Alissa Black-Dorward, Empirical Research (posted April 1, 2011). Tabs lead you to

  • General Materials

  • Statistical Software and Instruction

  • Survey Research

  • Banking

  • Courts, Judges & Lawyers

  • Crime and Criminal Justice

  • Economics, Business & Finance

  • Environment

  • Evidence

  • Foreign & International

  • Health

  • Intellectual Property

  • Social Science Statistics

  • State Statistics
Some of the information in the guide is tailored to Fordham, but you can find the equivalent here. For instance, our library has many of the books cited (although perhaps with different call numbers) and the UW has its own Human Subjects Division for ensuring ethical practices. ---------------------------------- This post is copied from Gallagher Blogs, on the assumption that many readers of Trial Ad Notes don't read the law library's blog (although you're welcome to, of course) but would be interested in this topic.