A Few Words from the Bench: Judges' Communication to and about the Jury

by Traci Margaret Feller

Institution: University of Washington
Year: 2014
Keywords: courtroom; judge; jury; race; sex; trial; Communication
Record ID: 2053045
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/25185


A judge holds an important position during a jury trial. In a context that is typically unfamiliar and unknown to jurors, the judge regularly holds the highest amount of respect and is thought to be the most just, fair, and wise professional in the courtroom. The judge speaks to the jury, as well as about the jury, and both give the jury cues and information used to attribute meanings to the actions and events occurring. In short, judge communication during a trial can be very impactful to a jury and the trial process as a whole. This study looked specifically at the communication of judges pertaining to the jury itself, either to or about the jury, and how this may correlate with specific judge characteristics, particularly sex and race. When speaking to the jury, this study analyzed what instructions, explanations, informal, or praising communication they offered the jury. When speaking about the jury, this study analyzed what instruction, positive or negative characterizations, advocating, and informal statements they made regarding the jury. Additionally, this study examined two ceremonial acts a judge engaged in regarding a jury: allowing them to ask questions after witness testimony in a civil trial, or having the entire room stand when the jury entered or exited; both are unrequired and up to the discretion of the judge. This study found that female and racial minority judges were more likely to advocate for the jury, to allow the jury to ask questions of witnesses in civil trials, and to have the room stand for the jury when it entered or exited than did White, male judges.