Detecting Lies During Voir Dire
There have been many studies done on lie detection and the results are often disheartening. Most of us, including police officers, fare no better than chance at detecting a liar. When it comes to your voir dire, this can be troublesome. While much of lie detection is a gut reaction (if you haven’t read the book “Blink” yet, I highly suggest it), there are some things that you can look for and some myths you should be educated about.
Liars Fidget. Yes, maybe…but so do people who are telling the truth. Often, good liars have learned to keep their bodies very still. You could have a truthful juror who is simply nervous and fidgety. Don’t assume a nervous behavior means they are lying.
Liars Look Away. Again, not necessarily. Some liars will look you straight in the eye. They may even have more direct eye contact than normal.
Liars Won’t Have Detailed Stories. Not true. The stories are more likely to be overly detailed.
The most important things to look for in detecting lies are inconsistencies. As humans, our bodies betray us – there are little tells that come out even if you don’t mean for them to. Slight smiles when talking about something gruesome and horrifying or nods of the head when talking about something in the negative. Look for these subtle body language cues.
If you ask basic questions first, you can get a baseline reading off the person (such as asking about their family and work life). When you ask more controversial case-specific questions and they react differently, that may be a sign they are lying. If a juror is fidgety when talking about basic questions but then stiffens up when answering more case-specific questions, you need to consider that they are lying on the case-specific questions. Watch for changes in tone of voice, body gestures, crossed arms, whether they look straight at you or not. It is not the gesture in itself that matters – it is the difference from their baseline. Watch for inconsistencies and you will fare much better than sticking to stereotypes of liars.
If you want to know more, look up some work by lie detector Pamela Meyer and I’m sure there are many others.