Mock jury trials can predict verdicts in criminal cases if they are conducted in a certain way.1 A mock trial is a form of psychological research that attempts to predict jury behavior. 2 There are three essential components to constructing a mock trial that can effectively forecast jury behavior. 1 First, the mock jurors must faithfully represent the jury pool.3 Second, the lawyers must present the same evidence that will be presented during the real trial to the mock jurors. 4 And third, the story presented by the lawyers must demonstrate methodological soundness. 5
Richard Gabriel, a trial consultant and a leader in the field of jury research,6 has effectively used mock jury trials as an aid in selecting juries that will return favorable outcomes in high profile criminal cases.7 In the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Gabriel and his team learned invaluable information from mock trials that was essential to Simpson’s defense.8 For example, Gabriel’s team discovered that many jury pool candidates did not believe Simpson murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, many candidates did not want Simpson to be found guilty, and many had been treated unfairly by police.9 Further, Gabriel’s team found that “almost half of the divorced or widowed women [they] spoke to leaned toward an acquittal.”10
The defense team in the O.J. Simpson murder trial successfully utilized Gabriel’s research during jury selection and chose a jury that was favorable to its client. The final jury of twelve in the consisted of ten women11 and nine jurors that “had negative experiences with law enforcement.”12 Nine of the jurors were black, two were white, and one was Hispanic.13 Notably, prosecutor Marcia Clark wanted female jurors on the jury because she mistakenly believed that women would sympathize with Nicole Simpson and connect better with a female attorney.14 Neither proved to be true.15 And Clark’s inaccurate assumptions provided a huge strategic advantage to the defense team; it allowed them “to keep jurors that the prosecution would also want, gambling that [Gabriel’s] research was better than [Clark’s] intuition.”16 Interestingly, the prosecution also staged mock trials, and the prosecution’s jury consultant also steered Clark away from female jurors.17 But Clark rejected the jury consultant’s advice, “confident that the spousal-abuse issue in the case and her experience in establishing rapport with African American women jurors would be decisive.”18
The lawyers for the Goldman family in the O.J. Simpson civil trial also utilized a mock jury trial to study potential juror’s responses to evidence.19 Not only did the mock trial correctly predict that the jurors would find Simpson guilty; it also turned up a crucial fact that led the plaintiffs to force Simpson to testify.20 When the mock jurors were shown a videotape that Simpson made to accompany his book “I Want to Tell You,” the jurors could sense that Simpson was untruthful. 21
As shown by the use of mock jury trials in the O.J. Simpson murder and civil cases, mock trials provide valuable insight into how a potential juror will view the evidence of a particular case. Further, the outcome of the O.J. Simpson murder case demonstrates that relying on psychological research from mock jury trials, rather than on intuition and past experiences, can lead to the selection of a jury that acquits, even when the evidence seems to prove otherwise.