Using the psychology of influence to persuade DUI juries

Last Modified: June 18, 2024

Using the psychology of influence to persuade DUI juries

Psychological principles of persuasion can be effective tools for the DUI attorney. For many decades, social scientists have been studying what makes people say “yes.” They refer to this as the “psychology of compliance.” Research has identified six basic principles of influence and compliance that are consistently used by salespersons, advertisers and fundraisers. These principles can be easily adapted by a criminal trial lawyer in a DUI case. The six principles of influence and compliance are: (1) reciprocation; (2) scarcity; (3) authority; (4) consistency; (5) consensus; and (6) liking.

In brief, the psychological principle of reciprocation is based on the belief every society lives by the unspoken rule that if one gives, one receives, which can be expressed as follows: you, then me, then you, then me and so forth; that is, if you give something, the recipient will feel compelled to reciprocate. Holiday gift-giving is an excellent example of the reciprocation principle at work. The psychological principle of scarcity holds that people are persuaded by genuinely scarce, unique and exclusive information. The principle of authority is straightforward: those who convey an air of authority are more persuasive. The fourth principle – consistency – suggests that people want to be consistent in their words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds; thus, obtaining a small initial commitment up front is the key to obtaining a significantly larger commitment later. The principle of consensus suggests that “social proof” is a powerful motivator; the more people we see doing something, the more likely we are to do the same thing. Finally, the psychological principle of “liking” is, perhaps, the most obvious of the six compliance principles. According to this principle, people prefer to do things for individuals they know and like.

Let’s examine two of these principles in the context of a DUI trial.

Applying the psychological principle of “reciprocation” to a DUI trial

In order to effectively employ the principle of reciprocation, one should endeavor to be the first person in a transaction to give service, information and concessions. In response, the person on the other side of the transaction will feel obligated to reciprocate. Thus, in the context of a drunk driving trial, the question becomes, “What service, concession or information can your DUI defense lawyer give to jurors – before they receive it from the court or, worse, from the government lawyer – that will make them feel ‘required’ to give something back to you?”

The defense attorney in a DUI case has much to offer jurors. Because jurors get bored, an experienced DUI defense lawyer will start by giving the jurors entertainment, or at least, keeping things interesting. Jurors are pressed for time, so a more succinct trial will be a much appreciated gift. Likewise, the jurors may be overwhelmed by the amount of new information they are exposed to in a case alleging driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In that case, the smart DUI defense lawyer will give them simplicity.

Each of these “gifts” should be given in a manner that clearly lets the jury know what is happening. For example, if, during jury selection, a juror indicates that she cannot sit through two days of testimony because of a pressing business issue, the DUI defense attorney can give that juror the gift of respect by asking the court to excuse her, as follows: “Your honor, the defense would like to let Ms. Jones take her business trip. The defense asks the court to thank and excuse her.” Similarly, if a juror’s body language during jury selection suggests that the juror has something to say, but is being ignored, the DUI defense lawyer can point this out to the court. Both the judge and the juror will appreciate the effort.

An experienced DUI defense lawyer will always be on the lookout for ways to shorten the trial, especially those ways that afford the opportunity to broadcast this gift of time to the jury. For example, when the defense stipulates to (i.e., agrees to the admission of) a piece of evidence, defense counsel should tell the court (and, indirectly, the jury), “The defense agrees to stipulate, so as not to waste the jury’s time with this matter.” Similarly, if your DUI defense lawyer offers a stipulation (i.e., asks the prosecution to agree to the admission of evidence), but the prosecutor refuses, then your DUI defense lawyer must make sure the jury knows that it is the government—not you or your lawyer —that is needlessly dragging out the trial.

Applying the psychological principle of “liking” to a DUI trial

As noted above, the principle of “liking” rests on the assumption that most people are more willing to do things for someone they like. Consequently, anything that will make the jury think favorably about you or your attorney will be helpful to your drunk driving case.

One way to effectively use the “liking” principle in a DUI trial is to point out similarities between the DUI defense team (you and your DUI attorney) and the jurors. For example, during jury selection, your lawyer might say something like, “Mr. Jones, I see you went to the same college as my client, and probably graduated about the same time, but you don’t remember seeing him on campus?” By way of another example, your DUI defense lawyer might say to a juror who works as a plumber, “My father was a plumber for 35 years, I wonder if you knew him.”

Laughter is another way to use the “liking” principle to the DUI defense team’s advantage. In general, we tend to like people who make us laugh; self-deprecatory humor by your DUI lawyer can be very effective. In fact, laugher can be such a powerful tool that it has been said that a laughing jury never convicts.

The “liking” principle also will come into play as your DUI defense lawyer considers whether to put you on the stand to testify. If one or more of the jurors might not like you or your story, this alone may be reason enough to keep you from testifying.

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