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Attorney Communication and Impression Making in the Courtroom Views from Off the Bench

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1986
22 pages
This study examined the effectiveness of prosecutor and defense attorney communication and creation of impressions in the courtroom.
Trained in-court observers rated attorney presentations for factual and legal informativeness, organization, articulateness, and rapport during the opening statements of 50 trials in Milwaukee and Dane Counties (Wisconsin) from July to December 1981. After the trials, jurors evaluated the attorneys' overall articulateness, enthusiasm, and likableness during the trial. Prosecutors and defense attorneys were then questioned about their own performance on these indices. Observers judged prosecutors' opening statements to be better organized and more factually and legally informative than those of defense attorneys. These variables were not related to trial outcome, however. Juror evaluations of prosecuting attorneys approximated prosecutors' self-perceptions of courtroom performance, but defense attorneys rated themselves significantly better than did jurors. Courtroom experience was not significantly related to observers' perceptions of the effectiveness of attorneys' performance, although it was related to more favorable attorneys' perceptions of themselves, particularly those of defense attorneys. System constraints favoring prosecutors and performance feedback mechanisms available to prosecutors but not to defense attorneys are discussed. These mechanisms may account for the discrepancies between juror perceptions of attorneys and attorneys' self-perceptions. 6 tables and 45 references. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1986