Faculty Spotlight: Sara Gordon

May 17, 2019
Sara Gordon

What's the most important thing you are working on right now?
 
I took on the role of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs last fall, so right now I’m working on the class schedules for next year. As I told a group of admitted students a few weeks ago, it’s the first time in my entire legal career where I’ve been able to put to good use the skills tested on the logic games portion of the LSAT. It also reminds me of how significant those first-year course assignments were to me when I was a new law student — in part because that is where I first met some of the people who would become lifelong friends and colleagues. It’s also a reminder that this year is coming to a close and we’ll soon be wishing our graduates good luck on the bar exam and as they start their legal careers, as we simultaneously get ready to welcome a new group of incoming students. Who knew scheduling could be so bittersweet?
 
What are you going to work on this summer?
 
I’ve recently returned to some of my earlier scholarship on juries and jury decision-making and plan to spend some time on that this summer. I gave a talk last month to the Judge Howard McKibben Inn of Court on jury selection and the social desirability bias, or the tendency of juries (and all people) to present a socially acceptable version of themselves to others. In the context of voir dire, this means that jurors tend to give answers to questions that align with what they think their answers should be. This creates some obvious challenges during jury selection, where lawyers don’t have much to inform their choices apart from jurors’ answers to questions. Lawyers can attempt to minimize the bias by framing questions to avoid suggesting a “right answer”; by using written questionnaires, which tend to minimize the social desirability bias in comparison to oral questions posed in front of an audience; and by explaining to jurors how bias works¾everyone has biases and by encouraging jurors to more consciously examine how they affect decision-making, lawyers can promote more honest answers from jurors during voir dire.
 
I also plan to finish up a paper that examines the admission of forensic feature comparison methods in criminal trials¾these are the forensic methods that allow experts to match things like bitemarks or latent fingerprints to a criminal defendant. While these types of evidence are regularly admitted against defendants and most people — including jurors — are convinced of their validity and reliability, the scientific community tells us something very different. Many of these forensic methods, like latent fingerprint analysis, have significantly higher error rates than we have always believed, while others, like bitemark evidence, have virtually no scientific validity and should not be admitted by courts. My paper focuses on this disconnect, and the resistance of juries and courts to believe new information that contradicts or disproves the things they have always assumed to be true.

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September 13, 2019 - Nancy B. Rapoport, Siobhan Wilkinson, Amanda Stevens '15
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