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Prehabilitation, Individual Voir Dire, and Detecting Prospective Juror Bias: The Trayvon Martin Case Mykol Hamilton and Hillary Henize APLS Conference 2013, Portland, Oregon. Results : Compared to the Prehabilitation condition, participants in the Friend said that they…

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Prehabilitation, Individual Voir Dire, and Detecting Prospective Juror Bias:

The Trayvon Martin Case

MykolHamilton and Hillary Henize

APLS Conference 2013, Portland, Oregon

  • Results:
  • Compared to the Prehabilitation condition, participants in the Friend said that they…
  • …leaned more strongly toward murder than self-defense (p = .002).
  • … were more certain that the defendant would not receive a fair trial (p = .017).
  • …were more certain that it would be difficult to presume innocence (p = .01).
  • …(male but not female participants) would find it more difficult to put aside negative pretrial information
  • (p = .07).
  • No significant difference between groups regarding…
  • …whether the jury would convict George Zimmerman
  • …how horrible/gruesome they believed the crime was


The 6th amendment of the U. S. Constitution guarantees defendants a speedy public trial by an impartial jury. While the purpose of the voir dire jury selection process is to expose bias in prospective jurors, the interests of those who conduct the interview process may compromise this goal. (Hamilton, Augustus, Melloan 2011)

In fact, research has demonstrated that voir dire interview practices may pressure prospective jurors to conceal rather than reveal bias. Hamilton (2010) conducted a change of venue (COV) survey in a highly publicized murder trial in Boyle County, KY and found that 57% of respondents believed the defendant was guilty. The judge denied the COV motion, which allowed Hamilton et al. to compare the COV survey bias rate to the bias rate in voir dire interviews in the same county. Only 22% of prospective jurors revealed anti-defendant bias in that setting.

To explore reasons for the discrepancy, Hamilton et al. analyzed the voir dire transcripts and identified a practice they dubbed “prehabilitation.” Both before and during voir dire questioning, the judge and attorneys were already attempting to remedy potential juror bias.

For example, the judge introduced each interview with a statement such as the following (emphasis ours):

“This is the portion of the trial that talks about pretrial publicity, what has been said or what you heard and its effect on your ability to keep from forming a preconceived notion and your ability to look at the other side of the story.”

Such an introduction might lead jurors to suppress their opinions in order not to seem incompetent and close-minded. This finding may partially explain the discrepancy between survey respondents’ and prospective jurors’ rates of anti-defendant bias disclosure.


The Prehabilitation hypothesis was strongly supported for 3 questions, including the central question of murder vs. self-defense. Additionally the hypothesis was moderately supported, for men only, on a 4th question. Although it is unrealistic to expect jurors to feel as comfortable disclosing bias in voir dire as they do in less formal and intimidating settings, judges and attorneys should make strong attempts to mitigate social desirability pressure. We hope that the current study, as well as our highly realistic mock jury experiment, which contrasted non-prehabilitative and prehabilitative voir dire introductions and questioning (to be presented at APS in May 2013), will educate the legal community concerning how to maximize bias disclosure and uphold the right to a fair and impartial trial.


Individual voir dire interview, Boyle County murder trial, 2010.

Trayvon Martin, shot and killed on 2/26/12 in Sanford, Florida.


Presume Innocence


In this paper-and-pencil study, we examined the effects of a prehabilitative voir dire introduction on bias disclosure. Ninety-eight undergraduates (47 men, 51 women), ages 18-22, read a March 2012 ABC TV summary of Trayvon Martin’s death, and then answered 6 Likert scale opinion questions. In the Prehabilitative condition, the survey opened with a prehabilitative introductory statement by the judge, and instructed participants to take a potential juror’s perspective. The Friend condition acted as a baseline measure of anti-defendant bias. Participants were to answer the questions as they would while discussing their opinions with a group of friends. We hypothesized that participants in the Friend condition would disclose more anti-defendant bias than would participants in the Prehabilitation condition.

Fair Trial

Put Aside Bias


Becker-Avi, M. (2002, Fall) The real purpose of voir dire.TPI Committee News. Pp. 1,8.

Hamilton, M. C.  (2010, August). Final Report on the Change of Venue Survey for the Dr. Steven Hall Case, District Court, Boyle County, KY.

Hamilton, M. C., Augustus, A. N., & Melloan, J. (2011, March). Voir dire, change of venue, and "legal desirability": Hidden jury bias in high PTP cases. Poster presented at the American Psychology-Law Society International Congress, Miami, FL.

Mean rates of anti-defendant bias disclosure as measured by 6 Likert scale survey questions.