Signaling and Jury Duty
By David Henderson
A junior colleague of mine, Noah Myung, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from Cal Tech, told me the following hilarious story.
He was a math/econ major at UCLA and had just completed a course on game theory, taught by David Levine, in the winter of 2003. He got a notice requiring him to show up for jury duty. He showed up. The defendant in the criminal case was a man accusing of beating the c**p out of another guy. The defendant was present during voir dire. At some point in the questioning of Noah, the conversation went as follows:
Defendant’s lawyer: If the defendant doesn’t take the stand during the trial, would you hold that against him?
Noah: If he doesn’t take the stand, it tells me something.
Defendant’s lawyer: It shouldn’t tell you anything.
Noah: But him not taking the stand signals me something.
Judge: You have to ignore the fact that he’s not taking the stand. It doesn’t signal anything.
Noah: But it does.
Then the judge and Noah go back and forth in this vein for a few rounds. Then:
Judge: If you’re selected as a juror, can you ignore the fact that he’s not taking the stand.
Noah: I could try, but subconsciously I know that he’s not taking the stand. It tells me something. I can’t suppress my subconscious thoughts.
Judge: Will you try your best not to be prejudiced.
Noah: I’ll try my best, but I can’t control my subconscious thought that he’s not taking the stand.
Defendant’s lawyer: You’re excused.