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What a quick verdict can tell us about a jury

By Douglas L. Keene, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Douglas Keene says in his his experience jurors are very serious about getting it right
  • He says the quick verdict in Anthony trial likely reveals how this jury worked together
  • He says they likely cooperated, agreed on what evidence showed, shared values
  • Keene: They likely knew their minds before final arguments; they deserve respect

Editor's note: Douglas Keene is a litigation consultant with a national practice, and served as the 2008-2009 President of the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC). He is a clinical and forensic psychologist and lectures at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law in the Trial Advocacy program.

(CNN) -- The jury in the Casey Anthony trial deliberated for two days before acquitting Anthony of the death of her young daughter. Those who have been focused on the trial are now going to shift to what such a rapid verdict means. At bottom, it means that the jury did the job it was sworn to do, and it didn't require lengthy deliberation. To the 12 people who matter, the correct verdict was clear.

Juries are dedicated to nothing more than they are to getting it right. A quick verdict or a lengthy deliberation: Either one is a sign of 12 people determined to do the best they can.

I have interviewed thousands of jurors over the last 20 years -- in focus groups, mock trials, jury selection -- and many are still talking about what they believe to be the crazy verdict in the McDonald's hot coffee case, or how the jury let O.J. Simpson get off.

Jurors speak passionately about how they would exert great care if it were up to them, and they are highly critical of juries that they think failed to pay attention to facts. Jurors don't want to reach a verdict that will bring ridicule on them, and they want to sleep well knowing that they did what they knew was just.

Quick verdicts in lengthy cases are not entirely unusual, and usually -- but not always -- point to several factors:

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Verdicts are values-driven. A quick verdict is usually linked to strongly held beliefs of the jurors, not just facts. Here, we might surmise that the facts they found most important were consistent with their personal beliefs and values, otherwise it would have required much longer to sort through them. The jury in this case is made up of seven women and five men, each of whom understands the death of any child (much less a beautiful little girl) as a tragedy. If the jury believed evidence pointed to her murder, every one of them would likely want to see the perpetrator punished severely. At the same time, if the evidence does not resolutely point to murder, they would not want to compound the tragedy of Caylee's death with wrongfully blaming her mother.

It was evidence, not argument. The evidence probably convinced the jury even before the final arguments. It is most likely that the jurors heard in the final arguments an affirmation of what they had already concluded from the evidence, and the closing statements gave voice to what they already believed, rather than causing them to view anything in a new way.

The value of cooperation. There is a good chance that the jurors got along well with one other, cooperated and had little personality conflict. Sequestration can be very stressful, and jurors can act out the stress by becoming irritated and argumentative. These jurors evidently cooperated well enough to stay focused on their responsibilities and moved through the deliberations smoothly.

One view. A speedy verdict often reflects that there is a common belief about what the evidence showed. The jurors likely perceived things in a consistent way. If there was a serious range of opinions about the verdicts, they would have had to go through more discussion. In this case, they had to reconcile Casey's statements to the police with questions related to the cause of death. They seemed to do this in their verdict by concluding that the death was not homicide, but that she perhaps panicked and made false statements to the police.

Awareness of the public microscope. The acquittal of Casey Anthony on the murder charge in a case this sensational is going to result in a tremendous amount of negative attention for these jurors. They came to their decision with this in mind. They also were aware that their identities as jurors will very likely be disclosed by some means, and their privacy could be in jeopardy. They will probably be challenged about why they judged the case in an unpopular direction. They determined to do what they felt was right, no matter what the public repercussions. Jury duty is complicated, and not just because of the time required. It is a challenge to do what justice requires, even if you anticipate that it could be unpopular. In that sense, serving as a juror in a controversial case is a heroic act.

Certainty. It is easier to vote halfheartedly in a publicly popular direction (in this case it would have been in support of a guilty verdict on the murder charge). It is vastly harder for a jury to vote to acquit someone in Casey Anthony's position unless they are truly convinced that the prosecution failed to make its case. Whether the public views the jury as having gotten it right or wrong, these 12 citizens came to a common view on weeks of evidence, and found justice in their verdict. They reached their decision quickly but not easily. They voted consistent with their view of the truth and the law.

Being a juror is difficult, and even more so when the issues are as upsetting as those at issue in the Anthony case. As the representatives of the public in such an important matter, they deserve our respect and thanks, regardless of whether we agree with their verdict.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Douglas L. Keene.

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