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  • 319

    Perception and Persuasion in Legal Argumentation: Using Informal Fallacies and Cognitive Biases to Win

    the War of Words

    CONTENTS

    I. INTRODUCTION ................................................................ 320 II. KEY CONCEPTS AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ............... 325 A. Perception and Persuasion .................................................... 325 1. Perception ...................................................................... 325 2. Persuasion ..................................................................... 327 3. The interaction between perception and persuasion ............. 330 B. Informal Fallacies and Cognitive Biases ................................. 331 1. Informal fallacies ........................................................... 331 2. Cognitive biases ............................................................. 334 3. The connection between informal fallacies and cognitive

    biases ............................................................................ 336 C. Background and Context: Sophists, Philosophers, and Lawyers 338 III. EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY, WRONGFUL CONVICTION, AND

    THE COURTS .............................................................. 341 A. Cognitive Psychologists and Legal Scholars on Eyewitness

    Testimony .......................................................................... 341 B. Courts Limited Role in Excluding Unreliable Testimony ......... 343 1. Excluding opinion that lacks a rational connection to

    actual perception ............................................................ 343 2. Excluding unreliable identifications due to suggestive

    circumstances ................................................................ 345 IV. CONNECTING THE LINKS BETWEEN SPECIFIC INFORMAL

    FALLACIES AND SPECIFIC COGNITIVE BIASES ................ 349 A. Fallacy of Irrelevant Thesis and Bounded Awareness ............... 349 B. Fallacy of Exclusion and Confirmation Bias ........................... 352 C. Fallacy of Style over Substance and the Framing Effect ............ 354 D. Fallacy of Emotive or Loaded Language and Suggestibility....... 356 E. Poisoning the Well, the Straw Man, and Cognitive Dissonance 357 V. CONCLUSION .................................................................. 360

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    I. INTRODUCTION

    When zealously advocating a clients position, the lawyers ulti-mate goal is winning. To win, however, the lawyer must convince a judge or jury to accept the lawyers (and reject opposing counsels) position. The best type of advocate accomplishes this goal using var-ious rhetorical techniques, attempting to manage other peoples per-ceptions of such things as the facts, the lawyers own theory of the case, the credibility of eyewitness testimony, the weaknesses of op-posing counsels claims, and the praiseworthiness of the lawyers own client. By design, we have an adversary system. Roberto Aron and his colleagues characterize litigation quite deftly.

    Litigation is not a philosophical discussion. Trial advocacy is always controversial. A trial is a judicial contest between lawyers where a given situation and set of facts are interpreted in various ways by the different parties lawyers, each counsel trying to persuade the judge or jury that justice is on the side of the client for whom coun-sel is arguing.1

    But how does the lawyer successfully convince the fact finder that the lawyers (and not opposing counsels) position is aligned with justice? Success inevitably boils down to persuasive legal argu-mentation.2 This is because the advocates [only] weapons in the courtroom battle are methods, tactics, and strategies, all of which have in common the ultimate goal of persuasion.3 When lawyers do battle in the courtroom, whichever warrior wages war while wisely wielding wittier words without waning will win. Thus, if the lawyers ultimate goal is winning, the lawyer must master the art of persua-sion. For the art of persuasion4 is intimately connected with the psy-

    1. See ROBERTO ARON ET AL., TRIAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS 1.14 (2d ed. 2011). 2. BRYAN A. GARNER, GARNERS DICTIONARY OF LEGAL USAGE 672 (3d ed. 2011) (defining argumentation as the art of logically setting forth premises and drawing conclusions from them). 3. ARON ET AL., supra note 1 (emphasis added). 4. RONALD WAICUKAUSKI, PAUL MARK SANDLER & JOANNE EPPS, THE 12 SECRETS OF PERSUASIVE ARGUMENT, at v (2009) (The art of persuasion is at the heart of the successful ad-vocates skill set. . . . The essence that the great advocate adds to fact and law is an assessment of their implications for her clients case, and an understanding of the way that the facts and law support her overall rationale. It is equally important to explain and refute the opposing facts and law. That approach is essential to being an effective lawyer-advocate and to the art of persua-

  • 319 Perception and Persuasion in Legal Argumentation

    321

    chological process of perception. And perception is what convinces people whether to accept or reject the lawyers argument.

    In this Comment, I propose an account of legal argumentation that explains the relationship between mental processes that psy-chologists label cognitive biases5 and legal arguments that philoso-phers label informal fallacies.6 Cognitive biases are errors in our thinking and reasoning, which alter our perceptions. Informal fal-lacies are verbal or written arguments containing material flaws, which enhance their persuasiveness.7 I also describe the process of persuasion at play when the lawyer uses legal arguments that con-tain informal (material) fallacies. By using legal arguments that con-tain informal fallacies, the lawyer can play upon the listeners inher-ent cognitive biases to persuade the listener to see things the same way the lawyer does. When lawyers use these rhetorical tech-niqueswhether before or during trial proceedingsthey induce8 in most listeners erroneous perceptions that can, and often do, power-fully alter their listeners beliefs.

    sion.). 5. Cognitive bias generally describes numerous observer effects in the mind, which are desires and expectations people possess [that] influence their perceptions and interpretations of what they observe. D. Michael Risinger et al., The Daubert/Kumho Implications of Observer Effects in Forensic Science: Hidden Problems of Expectation and Suggestion, 90 CALIF. L. REV. 1, 6 (2002). 6. Throughout this Comment, I predominantly use the term informal fallacy instead of the three-extra-syllable term informal logical fallacy. In legal circles, informal fallacies might also be familiarly known as material fallacies. E.g., Hernandez v. Denton, 861 F.2d 1421, 1439 (9th Cir. 1988) (Aldisert, J., concurring and dissenting) (The arguments contain material fallacies, that is, errors or evasions that appear only through an analysis of the meaning of the terms, ra-ther than an analysis of the logical form. (emphasis added)), vacated, 493 U.S. 801 (1989); see also RUGGERO J. ALDISERT, THE JUDICIAL PROCESS 63544 (1976). 7. See RUGGERO J. ALDISERT, LOGIC FOR LAWYERS: A GUIDE TO CLEAR LEGAL THINKING 141 (3d ed. 1997). Judge Aldisert defines informal (material) fallacies as follows:

    An informal fallacy is one that cannot be detected merely by examining the form of the argument but must be detected in some other way. It is any other argument that does not properly establish the supported conclusion. An argument contains an in-formal fallacy when at least one of its premises is not true, or when the rules of infer-ence are not properly respected.

    Id. 8. WAICUKAUSKI ET AL., supra note 4, at 1 (As a lawyer, your goal is to make the argu-ment that not merely impresses but . . . induces the desired action. Everything you say or do in making an argument should be determined on the basis of whether it will help to induce the de-sired outcome. (emphasis added)).

  • BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 2013

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    I also analyze specific informal fallacies and specific cognitive bi-ases as well as their potential to improve or undermine the legal sys-tem. I focus on cognitive biases that affect how we understand, wit-ness, remember, and investigate things in our world. I also concentrate on informal fallacies of presumption,9 which argue from unwarranted assumptions and fail to establish their conclusion. By analyzing the relationship between several cognitive biases and in-formal fallacies, I hope to show how both types of errors influence the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

    My first general purpose is to explain what lawyers and judges can learn from psychologists and philosophers insights on legal ar-gumentation.10 There is a connection between perception and per-suasionnamely, that cognitive biases (linked to perception) and in-formal fallacies (linked to persuasion) are merely two different labels used to describe faulty reasoning as it occurs in one of three phases in the reasoning process: (1) the arguers mental process in which a specific bias influences how she interprets her perceptions and how she is persuaded to believe something; (2) the arguers rhetorical process in which she uses a specific tool or argument to persuade the listener to perceive and believe as she believes; and (3) the listeners mental process in which a specific bias influences his perceptions of the arguers reasoning and persuades him to believe as she does.

    An example helps to illustrate what I mean. After a man dies in a helicopter crash, his family sues the helicopter manufacturer. At tri-al, their lawyer argues that the manufacturer negligently designed

    9. Fallacies of Presumption, LOGICAL FALLACIES, http://www.logicalfallacies.info/ presump-tion (last vi

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