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Summary of the Judicial Notebook Column by the Court Watch Committee

By Eve M. Brank, J.D., Ph.D., University of Nebraska

SPSSI’s Court Watch Committee writes the Judicial Notebook column each month for the APA Monitor.  Committee members write columns to address an upcoming Supreme Court case or important legal issue with relevance to psychologists. The purpose of the Judicial Notebook is to make Monitor readers aware of legal issues that may affect or be of interest to them, and to let psychologists know about pending cases in which they could become professionally involved.  In the past few months the committee has examined jury size, effectiveness of counsel, and fraud.

In the combined July and August Monitor, Drs. Marc Pearce (University of Nebraska) and Twila Wingrove (Appalachian State University) examined criminal jury size. In most states, serious felony defendants are provided with a twelve-member jury; however, the Supreme Court permits states to have six-person juries.  Empirical research has demonstrated that, among other issues, 6-member juries may not as effectively represent the community as 12-member juries.  Because the Supreme Court has been reluctant to revisit the jury-size issue, Drs. Pearce and Wingrove suggested further research on comparing twelve- to six-member juries and research on improving six-person juries.  

Dr. Ryan Winter and Marianna Carlucci, both of Florida International University, described in the September Monitor a Supreme Court case scheduled for early November oral arguments. In Wood v. Allen the Supreme Court will review the standards for effectiveness of counsel in capital trials. At issue in Wood was the attorney’s decision not to present certain mitigating evidence, but empirical research on the topic suggests that mitigating evidence may not always have the intended effect.  Winter and Carlucci proposed that the focus in capital trials should be on the use of mitigation experts – specialist that would present mitigation evidence to the jury.

The October Monitor is dedicated solely to the APA Convention with no Judicial Notebook column. The November column, written by Dr. Eve Brank (University of Nebraska) and Teresa Kulig (University of Akron), addressed the boundaries of ethical behavior by high-powered people. In particular, Conrad Black will have his “honest services” case heard before the Supreme Court in Black v. United States. Black, a media executive, paid himself millions of dollars that a jury determined violated the honest services provision of the federal fraud statute.  The Supreme Court will consider how far-reaching the federal statute should apply, but the empirical research suggests that they should also consider individual and situational differences for determining ethical behavior.


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