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Narratives Make More Complete, Clear and Compelling Testimony

Narrative Testimony—How Jurors Make Decisions

Narrative Testimony is a term used to describe witness testimony that uses narrative structures and elements in order to testify most effectively. Research shows us that testimony that uses narrative approaches is the most effective type of testimony.
 
My new book, The Narrative Edge: Narrative Approaches in Social Work and Mental Health Expert Testimony (in press with the Council for Social Work Education) applies narrative structures and elements to expert testimony in the social sciences.
I have also applied narrative approaches to psychological autopsies in an upcoming article for the Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice published by the journal section of Taylor and Francis.
 
Forensic Narratives
Narrative structures include these elements:
  1. Setting: where and when does the story take place?
  2. Characters and characterizations: who doing the action and what are they like?
  3. Point of View (POV): from whose perspective is the story told?
  4. Plot: usually a conflict, a struggle to find a solution or answer and a resolution
  5. Climax: the dramatic point at which the resolution is known or discovered
  6. Theme: what is the overall principle or point of the story?
My book, the Narrative Edge, uses the photograph below, as a metaphor for how stories work in testimony. Narratives weave a world into which the witness invites the jurors to engage their facts. The jurors and the judge all understand that every witness only tells their version of the truth. All witnesses have a POV from which they see the world and how they form and interpret their facts. In a courtroom, the jurors hear competing stories from both sides.
 
© 2000 Bullis
 

“The Story Model”

The current state of jury research is that jurors use some version of the “The Story Model” proposed some years ago. Researchers like Pennington and Hastie and other have shown that jurors take the stories of witnesses and make their own stories. They create their own version of the truth that is coherent. A coherent trial narrative is a story that is: 1) consistent 2) complete and 3) plausible. That is the jurors form their own stories that seem to comprehensive of all or most of the facts of the case, that include the necessary narrative structure and that comports to their own experience or how life works.
Then, during jury deliberations the jurors refine and adopt their stories of the case after discussing them with other jurors. Finally, the jurors as a group decide on a “master narrative” that works for them so they can arrive at a verdict.
Not only does the “Story Model” militate toward narrative witnessing, but so does current neuroscience. Scientists are discovering that human beings are “hard wired” to see the world, to organize facts, and to make decisions based upon narrative structures. In other world, human beings make decisions just like jurors do. They gather facts, organize information and structure decisions by framing conflicts or puzzles, struggling to arrange solutions, and, finally, find solutions or lessons. This procedure also involves framing a setting, describing characters (those involved in the issue) and creating an overall these.
So witnesses should use story approaches and elements to make their version of the facts clear,
This is where it gets sticky. It’s one thing to like to hear stories or even know how to tell a compelling story. But it’s another thing to actually tell a good story. This is especially true for forensic narratives. It’s one thing to tell a story among friends and another thing to do so in court.
 

Forensic Narrative Training

 
So, here are some training opportunities:
  1. Telling your court story with narrative structures
  2. Relating metaphors effectively to key points in your narrative
  3. Applying effective story-telling techniques to court stories, such as building narrative tension, cogency and specificity
  4. Discovering and articulating the narrative theme
  5. Applying memory techniques to remember salient testimony
  6. See the section of this website on Forensic Rapport

Narrative Testimony—How Jurors Make Decisions

Narrative Testimony is a term used to describe witness testimony that uses narrative structures and elements in order to testify most effectively. Research shows us that testimony that uses narrative approaches is the most effective type of testimony.
 
My new book, The Narrative Edge: Narrative Approaches in Social Work and Mental Health Expert Testimony (in press with the Council for Social Work Education) applies narrative structures and elements to expert testimony in the social sciences.
I have also applied narrative approaches to psychological autopsies in an upcoming article for the Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice published by the journal section of Taylor and Francis.
 
Forensic Narratives
Narrative structures include these elements:
  1. Setting: where and when does the story take place?
  2. Characters and characterizations: who doing the action and what are they like?
  3. Point of View (POV): from whose perspective is the story told?
  4. Plot: usually a conflict, a struggle to find a solution or answer and a resolution
  5. Climax: the dramatic point at which the resolution is known or discovered
  6. Theme: what is the overall principle or point of the story?
My book, the Narrative Edge, uses the photograph below, as a metaphor for how stories work in testimony. Narratives weave a world into which the witness invites the jurors to engage their facts. The jurors and the judge all understand that every witness only tells their version of the truth. All witnesses have a POV from which they see the world and how they form and interpret their facts. In a courtroom, the jurors hear competing stories from both sides.
 
© 2000 Bullis
 

“The Story Model”

The current state of jury research is that jurors use some version of the “The Story Model” proposed some years ago. Researchers like Pennington and Hastie and other have shown that jurors take the stories of witnesses and make their own stories. They create their own version of the truth that is coherent. A coherent trial narrative is a story that is: 1) consistent 2) complete and 3) plausible. That is the jurors form their own stories that seem to comprehensive of all or most of the facts of the case, that include the necessary narrative structure and that comports to their own experience or how life works.
Then, during jury deliberations the jurors refine and adopt their stories of the case after discussing them with other jurors. Finally, the jurors as a group decide on a “master narrative” that works for them so they can arrive at a verdict.
Not only does the “Story Model” militate toward narrative witnessing, but so does current neuroscience. Scientists are discovering that human beings are “hard wired” to see the world, to organize facts, and to make decisions based upon narrative structures. In other world, human beings make decisions just like jurors do. They gather facts, organize information and structure decisions by framing conflicts or puzzles, struggling to arrange solutions, and, finally, find solutions or lessons. This procedure also involves framing a setting, describing characters (those involved in the issue) and creating an overall these.
So witnesses should use story approaches and elements to make their version of the facts clear,
This is where it gets sticky. It’s one thing to like to hear stories or even know how to tell a compelling story. But it’s another thing to actually tell a good story. This is especially true for forensic narratives. It’s one thing to tell a story among friends and another thing to do so in court.
 

Forensic Narrative Training

 
So, here are some training opportunities:
  1. Telling your court story with narrative structures
  2. Relating metaphors effectively to key points in your narrative
  3. Applying effective story-telling techniques to court stories, such as building narrative tension, cogency and specificity
  4. Discovering and articulating the narrative theme
  5. Applying memory techniques to remember salient testimony
  6. See the section of this website on Forensic Rapport