During the discussion and demonstration, another juror recaps the testimony of the old man. The old man said that it took him fifteen seconds to move from the bedroom, twelve feet, down the hallway, another forty-three feet, and then to open the door. In recapping the testimony, juror Four commits a fallacy of equivocation by uses the words the old man used in his testimony in the same way when they do not mean the same thing. Four stated that the man claimed to have “walked, or ran, or went” to the door. He used them all in the same way when they are different. To use them interchangeably, in this context, is fallacious. The testimony came in to question when the fifteen seconds seemed highly improbable given the distance and his lame leg. Three responded by trying to discredit the old man’s testimony by stating that he cannot know it was fifteen seconds, and when asked why, Three responded, “Because he is old!” The age of an individual does not determine how well the memory functions. It may certainly increase the probability if there is warrant or evidence for a lack of memory function, but in the lack of any evidence suggesting that in this situation, which only increases the probability, the jurors would have to take the old man at his word and original testimony.
Right before the demonstration of what the old man witness would have had to accomplish in order to see the boy running down the stairs, juror Ten began another tirade of anger. Ten unleashed his irrational reason for why he believed the boy really murdered his father. He claimed that because he is a slob and cannot even speak correct English, he is therefore guilty. Yet again, Ten commits another red herring fallacy. The lifestyle or grammar skill level is completely irrelevant to whether or not the boy actually murdered his father. During the demonstration of the old man witness, juror Three commits a red herring fallacy.
The movie’s anti-bureaucratic, Wild West hero is a vigilante
who takes the law into his own hands. He is compelled to do so because all
of the court’s officers have failed at their jobs. The police appear to have
done a shoddy investigation. They have ignored fundamental forensic
analysis regarding the nature and angle of the victim’s wounds. They have
paid no heed to warning signs about their lame and near-sighted witnesses.
The prosecution has been overzealous and has failed to consider the potential flaws in its case. The defense seems to have been incompetent, and
Juror #8, more or less, says so: “It is also possible for a lawyer to be just
plain stupid, isn’t it?”18 The droning judge appears bored by the proceed-
ings and shows no sign of concern that a fair result be achieved.
If the proceedings are going to be saved, it is only by the exertions of
someone who chooses to work outside the law. That is exactly what Juror
#8 does. He transgresses the rules; conducts his own search for evidence;
brings that new, untested, evidence before his fellow jurors; and with it
seizes control of the deliberations.The lesson seems to be that a vigilante
for justice may use any means to get the “right” result. Such a lesson runs
counter to the core ethos of jury trial—that fair procedure in open court
should serve as the sole basis for a decision by twelve disinterested citizens.
12 Angry Men reflects the prevailing sexism of America in the
1950s. The film is, literally, about twelve angry men. There are no women
in roles of responsibility. In fact, there are virtually no women at all. The
movie shows us a man’s world where men do everything and women do
little more than serve as witnesses.
It is a world where most of the action is “manly.” Violent confronta-
tional argument is the most frequent mode of discourse. The threat of
physical violence lurks just below the surface of several of the most impor-
tant exchanges in the jury’s deliberations. As is stereotypically the case, the
men have to get mad to get the job done. The deliberations sometimes feel
more like a struggle for dominance than rational analysis.
The initial vote that was taken was public. As they voted by raising their hands, several of the jurors, who later expressed that they weren’t sure the boy was guilty (e.g., Joseph Sweeney—the old man), looked around to see how the other people were voting. But when the ballot was secret and anonymous, some of them didn’t comply. This strongly suggests that there was strong pressure to conform to the majority.
Examples of those that may have initially conformed because of group pressure:
Jack Klugman (the former slum kid): He didn’t say much at first, and seemed to be unsure about whether or not the boy was guilty. He was a slum kid himself, so he probably had some doubts, but went along with the majority initially because of pressure.
Joseph Sweeney (the old man): Initially conformed in the public vote, but switched when it was private—suggesting that he went along with the crowd.
Jack Warden (baseball guy): He went along with whatever was the majority opinion (partially because he just wanted to go to a baseball game). When the majority was guilty, he voted guilty, but when the majority switched over to not guilty (7-5) he changed his plea to not guilty, but couldn’t give any reasons why. “duh, I just don’t think he’s guilty.”
Just as stereotypes lead to a biased way of interpreting the evidence, they also lead to a confirmation bias, which is the tendency to only seek information that confirms your expectations and ignore disconfirming information. For example, many of the jurors initially expected that the boy was guilty (“It was clear right from the start”) and so they only remembered details in the case that supported that expectation. They also seemed to disregard or ignore details in the case that would disconfirm their expectations. For example, the jurors failed to notice the significant details such as the way the old man walked with a limp, that the female eye witness had marks on her eyes that were caused by prescription eye glasses, and that the knife used to kill the father was actually not all that unusual. They also failed to see that a noisy L train would have made it impossible to hear the boy yell, “I’m gonna kill ya.” All of these details would have disconfirmed their expectations, but were overlooked.
Also, one of the jurors stated that the old man made assumptions because he wanted to feel good about himself and gain some recognition. The juror was able to say this as he can connect with the eyewitness and thus in his perspective he was able to prove that the old man was only doing this for acknowledgment.
As the discussion in the jury room wears on, many of the jurors find themselves confused about their logic for conviction. Many of them are looking for someone to prove the accused is innocent, when in fact it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to prove the accused is guilty. How often in your life do
you find yourself assuming the worst of another person or holding someone else responsible for some wrong against you just because they cannot prove their innocence?
Twelve Angry Men challenges us not to convict those around us before they are proven guilty, but rather to assume innocence until otherwise proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Jurors must remain objective. In the movie, 11 of the 12 jurors claimed that the boy was guilty without discussing the matter in detail. Only one juror decided to go against the consensus and discuss the situation in further detail. He acted independently and wanted to investigate further. Journalists should also act independently and investigate the matter at hand. According to the “Elements of Journalism,” journalists must “assume nothing”. As a result, journalists should act like the one juror who decided to further investigate the situation and not make assumptions. He was not afraid to stand by himself against 11 other men and succumb to pressure. If he didn’t stand up for the boy, we would never find out all the discrepancies in the case.
Early on in Twelve Angry Men,Juror 10 says, “I’ve lived among ‘em all my life. You can’t believe a word they say. I mean, they’re born liars,” as he refers to the young man on trial and all individuals like him. Throughout the play, various jurors present prejudices against not only the accused but also against other jurors. The play calls upon us not simply to judge others by their appearance or other preconceived notions we may hold, but rather to consider everyone equally as human beings.
TAKING A STAND
As an American citizen, it is your right to a trial by jury, should you ever require one.
In the play, 11 of the 12 jurors were ready to send the accused to die without even taking a moment to assess the evidence together or talk with any depth about their impressions of the case. It would have been easy for the jurors to simply convict without truly considering the fact, but because of the courage and tenacity of Juror 8, the accused got a fair shake in the trial.
Twelve Angry Men reminds us that it is our responsibility to act to maintain that justice, and not simply to assume it will remain if we do nothing. If we don’t stand up for what’s right, no one will.
Moreover, the jurors were not very keen on questioning the information they had. For example, the knife used in the murder is identical to the one the boy had, thus the jurors assumed that he killed his father. However, one of the jurors pulls out an identical knife to prove that anyone can have a knife similar to the one used in the murder. The juror bought it from a shop in the same neighborhood the boy lived in. He even broke the law by buying a switchblade. Thus, proving that the boy is not necessarily the murderer.
The action begins with a quick tally of votes--11 for conviction, one against.
Entire action is set in a jury room as a dozen males from various walks of life--and sporting '50s neuroses--deal with what at first appears to be an open-and-shut case: A 16-year-old youth from the slums is accused of killing his abusive father with a switchblade and faces the electric chair.
Juror #8 (Richard Thomas) is the lone not-guilty vote--not because he believes the boy is innocent, but in order to have at least a nominal discussion of the case. As more issues are revealed incompetent lawyers, questionable eyewitnesses, circumstantial evidence--the votes begin to swing.