A psychology experiment recruited mock jurors to read through a transcript of a murder trial. After a key piece of evidence came up in court, the jury was told to "disregard" it, just the way they might in a real trial. That's where the problems started.

I've been a juror on a trial. I don't remember all that much, but one thing I do remember well is the testimony that the judge told me, and the other jurors, to disregard. This is common among jurors. It can be innocent - anything unusual stands out, and being told to disregard testimony is unusual. Still, it's not the way the justice system is supposed to work. One experiment suggests we can't avoid it.


A group of mock jurors were asked to read through a transcript of a murder trial. At one point, the judge declares the evidence from a wiretap inadmissible. Through the magic of experimental conditions, the evidence is sometimes inadmissible because the information was unreliable, and sometimes inadmissible because it wasn't obtained legally. In some transcripts, the wire tap evidence is considered admissible.

When it came to deciding whether the defendant was guilty or innocent, the jurors who read that the wire tap was inadmissible due to illegality tended to vote like the jurors who read that the wire tap was admissible. Only the ones who read that the wire tap was unreliable failed to act like it was official evidence.


The jurors didn't necessarily consciously think they were condemning a person because of an illegal wire tap. By interviewing them, the researchers found they often strengthened the significance and reliability of other evidence. Still, the wire tap made a difference. Is there any way around this, or should lawyers just plan for it and exploit it? Lawyer readers, let us know your thoughts!

Image: Gavel

[Via Inadmissible Testimony, Instructions do Disregard, and the Jury.]