Culture Code Part 1

I often hear comments from colleagues about the difficulties they face in defending a DUI case at trial. Their genuine frustration stems from wrongful DUI convictions in cases where the arresting officer lied about the DUI investigation, embellished the facts about the incident in his favor, the breath testing equipment was faulty or maintained inappropriately, or the science behind the DUI testing procedures was deficient, even shoddy.

The question then, is why would jurors disregard these critical factors in favor of a DUI conviction? The answer lies not with the facts of any case, but rather with human nature itself. It is often said that a trial is not about the facts or about what either party can prove. It is a battle of impressions. It is about the jurors’ perception and emotional reaction to a case. Emotions dictate the verdict and the mind justifies the conclusion. Jurors utilize their individual and collective logic to rationalize the verdict, or to give good reason for what their heart tells them is the answer.

Some of this, and perhaps most of it, happens at an unconscious level. In fact, jurors are likely not even aware that their decisions are driven by emotion, as opposed to the facts and the law. While jurors may understand the “logical” discussion of facts or evidence during deliberations, they are not cognizant of how their emotions and perceptions steer their logic.

Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, author of The Culture Code, explains this phenomenon best. He wrote “The Culture Code is the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing…” The “Code” determines how people process the same information. In other words, the cultural unconscious meaning jurors ascribe to things like alcohol, cars, police officer, etc., determines how they process the facts presented in a trial.

For example, Dr. Rapaille was commissioned to discover the meaning of alcohol in American culture. He found that the “American Culture Code for alcohol is GUN.” This means that Americans view alcohol as lethal. Dr. Rapaille wrote, “[t]he study revealed that alcohol had a very powerful effect, with the ability to alter lives and change circumstances,” such as “make you feel miserable,” or make you feel like you were “going to die,” or cause you to “collapse right on the spot.” He further explained:

“This Code explains the aura of danger, so puzzling to Europeans, surrounding alcohol in American culture. When we drink to excess, on some level we feel as though we are toying with a loaded gun. When we abhor drinking and driving, or frown at drunkenness, it is because we fear what can happen if the gun goes off.

Alcohol…makes you feel relaxed at best, drunk at worst—neither of which enhances our missions [things that help us get our jobs done]. It is therefore not surprising that we perceive alcohol as something dangerous and even deadly.”

This explains why a verdict may be inconsistent with the facts.  Jurors might convict a person in spite of the fact that the police officer lied, or that the breath test machine is faulty, or that the sciences behind the testing procedures were suspect, because their perceptions about such facts are colored by these unconscious definitions of conduct.