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Measuring the Double-Edged Sword: Does Scientifically Deterministic Evidence Protect or Punish Criminals?

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Scientists, lawyers, and bioethicists have pondered the impact of scientifically deterministic evidence on a judge or jury when deciding the sentence of a criminal. Though the impact may be one

Scientists, lawyers, and bioethicists have pondered the impact of scientifically deterministic evidence on a judge or jury when deciding the sentence of a criminal. Though the impact may be one that relieves the amount of personal guilt on the part of the criminal, this evidence may also be the very reason that a judge or jury punishes more strongly, suggesting that this type of evidence may be a double-edged sword. 118 participants were shown three films of fictional sentencing hearings. All three films introduced scientifically deterministic evidence, and participants were asked to recommend a prison sentence. Each hearing portrayed a different criminal with different neurological conditions, a different crime, and a different extent of argumentation during closing arguments about the scientifically deterministic evidence. Though the argumentation from the prosecution and the defense did not affect sentencing, the interaction of type of crime and neurological condition did.

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  • 2014-05

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Opposing experts, relative judgments and the reemergence of the neuroimage bias

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There is conflicting evidence regarding whether a biasing effect of neuroscientific evidence exists. Early research warned of such bias, but more recent papers dispute such claims, with some suggesting a

There is conflicting evidence regarding whether a biasing effect of neuroscientific evidence exists. Early research warned of such bias, but more recent papers dispute such claims, with some suggesting a bias only occurs in situations of relative judgment, but not in situations of absolute judgment. The current studies examined the neuroimage bias within both criminal and civil court case contexts, specifically exploring if a bias is dependent on the context in which the neuroimage evidence is presented (i.e. a single expert vs. opposing experts). In the first experiment 408 participants read a criminal court case summary in which either one expert witness testified (absolute judgment) or two experts testified (relative judgment). The experts presented neurological evidence in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data and the evidence type varied between a brain image and a graph. A neuroimage bias was found, in that jurors who were exposed to two experts were more punitive when the prosecution presented the image and less punitive when the defense did. In the second experiment 240 participants read a summary of a civil court case in which either a single expert witness testified or two experts testified. The experts presented fMRI data to support or refute a claim of chronic pain and the evidence type again varied between image and graph. The expected neuroimage bias was not found, in that jurors were more likely to find in favor of the plaintiff when either side proffered the image, but more likely to find for the defense when only graphs were offered by the experts. These findings suggest that the introduction of neuroimages as evidence may affect jurors punitiveness in criminal cases, as well as liability decisions in civil cases and overall serves to illustrate that the influence of neuroscientific information on legal decision makers is more complex than originally thought.

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  • 2016

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The Impact of Victim Photographs On Mock Jurors’ Emotions and Verdicts

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Several states within the United States have recently passed the Victim Life Photo Act, which allows prosecutors to present photographs of alleged murder victims when they were alive during the

Several states within the United States have recently passed the Victim Life Photo Act, which allows prosecutors to present photographs of alleged murder victims when they were alive during the guilt phase of a trial. Critics argue that these photographs do not offer any relevant information about the crime or the defendant’s potential guilt and might bias jurors to vote guilty based on their sympathy for the victim—perhaps disproportionally so for high-status victims. Two mock trial experiments tested whether online participants who viewed alleged murder victim photographs would convict more because they increase anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and/or sympathy. Mock jurors who saw photographs of White (but not racial minority) victims while they were alive reported more sympathy for the victim relative to those who saw the same evidence without a photograph of the living victim—but the sympathy did not increase convictions (Study 1). Study 2 extended this study by testing whether the living victim photographs are more impactful in conjunction with seeing gruesome photographs of the victim after her death, creating a particularly disturbing contrast effect versus seeing the living photograph alone. Study 2 found that (a) living victim photographs on their own again had no effect on participants’ verdicts, (b) gruesome photographs on their own increased convictions through increased disgust, and (c) participants who saw both living and gruesome murder victim photographs (versus gruesome alone) were more conviction prone due to increased anger and sympathy. These studies inform current debates regarding the controversial Victim Life Photo Act: Admitting living victim photographs during the guilt phase—if presented along with gruesome photographs—can make jurors more sympathetic and angry, which can increase convictions.

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  • 2020

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Multilevel potential outcome models for causal inference in jury research

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Recent advances in hierarchical or multilevel statistical models and causal inference using the potential outcomes framework hold tremendous promise for mock and real jury research. These advances enable researchers to

Recent advances in hierarchical or multilevel statistical models and causal inference using the potential outcomes framework hold tremendous promise for mock and real jury research. These advances enable researchers to explore how individual jurors can exert a bottom-up effect on the jury’s verdict and how case-level features can exert a top-down effect on a juror’s perception of the parties at trial. This dissertation explains and then applies these technical advances to a pre-existing mock jury dataset to provide worked examples in an effort to spur the adoption of these techniques. In particular, the paper introduces two new cross-level mediated effects and then describes how to conduct ecological validity tests with these mediated effects. The first cross-level mediated effect, the a1b1 mediated effect, is the juror level mediated effect for a jury level manipulation. The second cross-level mediated effect, the a2bc mediated effect, is the unique contextual effect that being in a jury has on the individual the juror. When a mock jury study includes a deliberation versus non-deliberation manipulation, the a1b1 can be compared for the two conditions, enabling a general test of ecological validity. If deliberating in a group generally influences the individual, then the two indirect effects should be significantly different. The a2bc can also be interpreted as a specific test of how much changes in jury level means of this specific mediator effect juror level decision-making.

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  • 2015

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When hurt heroes do harm: collective guilt and leniency toward war-veteran transgressors

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Protectors who do harm are often punished more severely because their crime is perceived as a betrayal of trust. Two experiments test whether this will generalize to protectors who incur

Protectors who do harm are often punished more severely because their crime is perceived as a betrayal of trust. Two experiments test whether this will generalize to protectors who incur harm while serving in their protective role, and if not, whether collective guilt for the harm they suffered provides an explanation. Study 1 tested competing hypotheses that a veteran (versus civilian) with PTSD would be punished either more harshly because of the trust betrayal, or more leniently because of increased guilt about the harm the veteran suffered during war. Men and women were both more lenient toward a veteran (versus civilian) but this effect was mediated by collective guilt only among men. In Study 2, guilt inductions increased leniency among participants less likely to classify the veteran as an in-group member (women, low national identifiers), but not in those who are more likely to classify the veteran as an in-group member (men, high national identifiers), who were lenient without any guilt inductions.

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Date Created
  • 2015

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The Effects of Differential Exposure to Gruesome Photographs on Mock Jurors' Emotions & Legal Judgments

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In a trial, jurors are asked to set aside their emotions and make judgments based solely on evidence. Research suggests jurors are not always capable of this, particularly when exposed

In a trial, jurors are asked to set aside their emotions and make judgments based solely on evidence. Research suggests jurors are not always capable of this, particularly when exposed to gruesome photographic evidence. However, previous research has not looked at the potentially moderating effect of when and for how long jurors are exposed to emotionally disturbing photographs, nor how many photographs they see. In two experiments I tested the impact of the timing of and extent of exposure to gruesome photographs on jurors’ emotions, verdicts, and punishment recommendations. In Study 1, I investigated the effect of timing and exposure duration to a single gruesome photograph of a victim in a murder case (no exposure, brief early exposure, brief late exposure, and prolonged exposure) on mock jurors’ emotions and case judgments. Prolonged exposure (relative to no or brief exposure, regardless of timing) increased disgust, which in turn was associated with harsher punishment. Contrary to previous research, the photograph manipulation did not influence verdicts. The results were mixed and inconclusive regarding brief early versus late exposure. In Study 2, I compared repeatedly viewing a single gruesome photograph to viewing a set of four similar, but unique gruesome photographs—holding the exposure time constant—to assess the impact of quantity of photos on jurors’ emotions and case judgments. Viewing multiple gruesome photos (relative to no photos) led to increase in guilty verdicts through increased disgust, replicating previous research. Viewing a single gruesome photo (relative to no photo) led to increase in guilty verdicts through disgust, differing from Study 1 findings. Viewing multiple gruesome photos and a single gruesome photo led to more disgust, compared to viewing no photo. However, differing from Study 1, gruesome photographs did not lead to an increase in punishment recommendations. There were no significant differences between exposure to a single or multiple gruesome photos on disgust, verdicts, or punishments. Overall, greater exposure to gruesome evidence led to increased disgust and punitiveness, relative to those with less exposure. However, jurors with greater exposure to the same or different photographs did not differ in reported emotions, verdicts, or punitiveness.

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Date Created
  • 2020

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Effects of videoconferencing on perception in the courtroom

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A sample of 193 participants viewed one of six variations of an eyewitness giving mock testimony. Each participant viewed testimony, which varied by level of emotion (none, moderate, or high)

A sample of 193 participants viewed one of six variations of an eyewitness giving mock testimony. Each participant viewed testimony, which varied by level of emotion (none, moderate, or high) and frame (waist-up or head only). Participants then rated the witness using the Brodsky Witness Credibility Scale and the Reyson Likability Scale. A set of ANOVA's was performed revealing an effect of emotion level on both credibility and likability. Emotion level was found to influence participant judgments of poise, however, to a lesser degree than judgments of credibility and likability. These results suggest that attorneys may want to avoid the use of videoconferencing with certain types of witnesses where testimony may be highly emotional.

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  • 2014

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How the expression of DNA evidence affects jurors' interpretation of probabilistic fingerprint evidence

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Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) evidence has been shown to have a strong effect on juror decision-making when presented in court. While DNA evidence has been shown to be extremely reliable, fingerprint

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) evidence has been shown to have a strong effect on juror decision-making when presented in court. While DNA evidence has been shown to be extremely reliable, fingerprint evidence, and the way it is presented in court, has come under much scrutiny. Forensic fingerprint experts have been working on a uniformed way to present fingerprint evidence in court. The most promising has been the Probabilistic Based Fingerprint Evidence (PBFE) created by Forensic Science Services (FSS) (G. Langenburg, personal communication, April 16, 2011). The current study examined how the presence and strength of DNA evidence influenced jurors' interpretation of probabilistic fingerprint evidence. Mock jurors read a summary of a murder case that included fingerprint evidence and testimony from a fingerprint expert and, in some conditions, DNA evidence and testimony from a DNA expert. Results showed that when DNA evidence was found at the crime scene and matched the defendant other evidence and the overall case was rated as stronger than when no DNA was present. Fingerprint evidence did not cause a stronger rating of other evidence and the overall case. Fingerprint evidence was underrated in some cases, and jurors generally weighed all the different strengths of fingerprint testimony to the same degree.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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The impact of recanted false confession types and clarified instructions on jury decision making

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A substantial amount of research has been dedicated to understanding how and why innocent people confess to crimes that they did not commit. Unfortunately, false confessions occur even with the

A substantial amount of research has been dedicated to understanding how and why innocent people confess to crimes that they did not commit. Unfortunately, false confessions occur even with the best possible interrogation practices. This study aimed to examine how different types of false confession (voluntary, compliance, and internalization) and the use of jury instructions specific to confessions influences jurors’ verdicts. A sample of 414 participants read a criminal trial case summary that presented one of four reasons why the defendant falsely confessed followed by either the standard jury instruction for confessions or a clarified version. Afterwards, participants completed several items assessing the perceived guilt of the defendant, their attitudes on confessions in general, and their opinions on jury instructions. Although the three confession reasons did not differ among one another, jurors who were given no explanation for the false confession tended to more harshly judge the defendant. Further, the clarified jury instructions did not influence the participants’ judgments. Future research should focus on how expert witness testimonies affect verdicts regarding each type of false confession reason and whether the media may influence a juror’s knowledge of factors that could provoke false confessions.

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Date Created
  • 2017