Recently, Professor Rost, a colleague of mine, posted an article about the power of anger within jury verdicts, posing the question: “Could an angry lawyer lead us to her chosen verdict, even if it’s true of us all that we don’t usually seek out angry people to follow? Utilizing a newly published study on juror anger from the University of Wyoming’s Department of Psychology, Rost offers eye-opening insights on when and how authentic attorney anger can influence juror decision-making.
First of all, what is anger? As defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), anger is “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.” The truth is anger is not all bad, which is why righteous anger is lauded. For example, when you feel angry, that emotion can “motivate you to find solutions to problems.” And in the courtroom, a great trial lawyer will need to use all available skills, including anger, to motivate the jury to solve the client’s problem.
In one of our recent mock trials involving a trucking accident, we found the jurors were consistently more angry at the company than sympathetic to the deceased family. Ultimately, they were awarded more than three times the requested damages. According to Choi’s study, if the council can connect with the jury using anger as a tool, jurors are more apt to render a verdict consistent with the counsel’s display of anger.
Our current environment is overflowing with angry people. In the pandemic era, our news feeds are inundated with daily displays of anger – those angered by mask requirements; those angry at individuals who choose not to wear masks; anger at corporations; anger at government and law enforcement. Anger seems to be ubiquitous in our society, so it makes sense that it reveals itself in our courtrooms.
The quintessential example of what happens within the juror room is the beloved movie, 12 Angry Men. What made those men so angry? Choi, et al., opines that counsel who use their anger instrumentally and authentically can get what they want from others. Was trial counsel effective in his use of anger to persuade this jury of twelve men to acquit his client? It seems so.
Research from Choi’s study indicates that if the jury perceives trial counsel as authentic, trial counsel’s “angry expressions may confer an advantage by increasing a juror’s likelihood” of finding in the counsel’s favor. Is it as simple as using a recent provoking experience, like getting cut off in traffic, to motivate your anger in your opening statement or closing argument?
According to Choi, the jurors must “catch” your anger for you to enjoy “the benefits of a punitive, confident, and angry jury.” Using authentic anger as a tool to convey your message to the jurors is the key to spreading your rage to the juror. Your fire must spread like a virus, infecting the jury with your emotions.
Another potential benefit of the appropriate and authentic use of anger is that the jury may find you more “competent (i.e., confident, commanding, and knowledgeable).” Counsel who conveys to the jurors a measured, authentic and appropriate level of anger are perceived as leaders in the courtroom and will be able to successfully persuade the jury to find in favor of their clients. Confident attorneys instill confidence in jurors, who will remain confident in their positions while deliberating. Importantly, according to Choi’s findings, once jurors have aligned with you, they will be less likely to make concessions. Remember what happened in 12 Angry Men!
How to Successfully Use Anger in Your Trial:
- Be Authentic: “Human beings do not process emotions at face value but are thoughtful about the merits of another’s emotional expression.” Your jurors will know if you are emotionally manipulating them. Prepare your case thoroughly to develop the theme that highlights the wrong that your client has suffered. Allow the jurors to mirror your authentic anger.
- Be Appropriate: Is your case appropriate for your expression of anger? Aristotle gives sage advice on the appropriate use of anger: “To be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Save your righteous indignation for the right case for the right reason; otherwise, you will just be the angry attorney.
- Be Measured: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Don’t be a fool!