How do minority voices fare on juries?

Small groups, including juries, are stereotyped as exerting tremendous pressure on minority opinion. And while it is true that initial majorities tend to prevail, that in itself is neither surprising nor a sign of trouble, in itself. In fact, research on group conformity yields the general finding that a person will hold to their minority viewpoint fairly strongly, particularly if there’s another group member sharing their view. (For this and similar research, see The Group in Society.)

Looking at a current example shows just how this can play out in real cases. What’s a higher-stakes, more pressure-packed trial than the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspect? Can you imagine the pressure one might feel, presuming that anything like a “not guilty” verdict would be the minority view? That appears to be the likely situation in that first civilian trial, where a single juror is standing his/her ground against 10 jurors with a contrary view of the case after two days of deliberation.

As is often the case, the judge in this trial has reminded the jury of the importance of truly deliberating–listening to even a small minority’s view:

The judge reminded the panel to consider the case in consultation with each other, urging the jurors to “not hesitate to change an opinion when convinced that it is erroneous.”

We’ll keep our eyes on the case and see what, in the end, comes of that juror and the verdict.



About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Deliberation on juries, Verdicts juries reach. Bookmark the permalink.

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