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Volume 14 Issue 2

Mock Juror Perceptions of Police Shootings: The Effects of Victim Race and Shooting Justifiability

Huff, J., Alvarez, M.J., Miller, M.K.,

Recent police shootings of African Americans have led citizens to question police officers’ use of force. Thus, it is important to determine whether mock jurors can distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable police shootings—and whether their judgements depend on victim race. Media attention could lead jurors to be more punitive in cases in which an officer shoots an African American (compared to Caucasian) victim. A punitive verdict would reflect society’s opposition to such shootings, as suggested by the bandwagon effect. In a 2 (Shooting: Justified/Unjustified) x 2 (Victim’s race: African American/Caucasian) experiment, mock jurors read a trial summary involving a fatal police shooting and indicated verdicts. Unjustifiable shootings resulted in less positive perceptions of the officer and perceptions that the shooting was less justified. When the victim was African American, participants had more positive perceptions of the victim, were more certain in a guilty verdict, and perceived the shooting as less justified. The interaction indicated that victim race affected verdicts, but only when the shooting was unjustified. Results suggest there is bias against officers who unjustifiably shoot African Americans, supporting the bandwagon effect. Implications for the role of media effects, psychology, and the legal system are discussed.

Eyewitness Memory: A Field Study of Viewing Angle, Pose, and Eyewitness Age

Thompson, W.B.,

The present study investigated how different views of a target person are related to description accuracy and lineup identification performance. In a quasi-experimental design, participants viewed a target that was seen either at eye-level or from an overhead viewing angle, and in either a front or side pose. Participants described the target and were asked to view a lineup a few days later to attempt an identification. Viewing conditions were related to several aspects of participants’ reports, including estimates of target distance and exposure time. Nearly all participants—including those who said they did not have a clear view of the target’s face—predicted that they could recognize a photo of the target. Among participants who viewed a lineup several days later, accuracy was much lower than they had predicted, but performance was only weakly related to viewing angle or pose. Age differences in event description accuracy and lineup identification performance were small. Overall, information provided by older and younger adults was similar in its accuracy.

Thin Slicing Our Way to Selfprotection: Stereotypical Reality and the Perception of Criminal Type

Krienert, J.L., Walsh, J.A., Acquaviva, B.L.,

Physiognomists have applied the study of human facial characteristics to personality since Lavatar’s work in the 18th C (Lavatar, 1866). Frequently dismissed as an absurd practice with dangerous implications, people routinely, deliberately, and instinctually apply these same inferential principles to first impression formation. Evolutionary psychologists posit that aspects of human cognition may have evolved to facilitate detection and defensive responses to individuals who intend to do us harm (Schaller, 2008). Self-protection and preservation are in the interest of survival of the species. The present work examines the understudied area of predictive ability to identify criminals by crime type. A large sample of respondents (n=2,824) drawn from a large Midwestern university were asked to match 10 criminal offenses to 10 randomly selected Department of Corrections identification photographs. Analyses of accuracy included both respondent demographic differences as well as offender to offense identification. Respondents identified six out of 10 crime categories at a rate significantly greater than chance, lending support to the contention that research examining the predictive accuracy of perception, has great utility in the areas of self-protection, preservation, and threat/harm reduction.

Fairness For All? Public Perceptions of Plea Bargaining

Khogali, M., Jones, K., Penrod, S.,

In the United States, most criminal cases are adjudicated through guilty pleas; yet, little is known about the public’s perceptions of plea bargaining. Here, we applied two competing theories-- a procedural justice framework and plea-bargaining in the “shadow of the trial” theory-- to analyze the impact that process-relevant and evidence-relevant plea bargain variables have on the public’s opinion of fairness for defendants, victims, and the greater community. Participants read two vignettes that summarized different plea bargain scenarios with nine key variables manipulated: the type of crime and its consequences, the defendant’s prior record, the strength of the evidence against the defendant, the severity of the plea deal sentence, the mandatory minimum sentence associated with the crime, the coerciveness of the plea deal, the presence of emerging exculpatory evidence, and the proximity to trial. Our findings reveal that factors thought to influence the process and outcomes of plea bargaining do not neatly map onto laypeople’s perceptions of procedural and outcome fairness and that evidentiary factors and prior attitudes may influence public perceptions of fairness more than procedural variables. These results highlight the need to further investigate the ways in which procedural justice and shadow of the trial frameworks can be applied to the study of public perceptions of plea bargaining.

Jury Instructions: How Timing, Type, and Defendant Race Impact Capital Sentencing Decisions

Mannes, S., Foster, E.E., Maier, S.L.,

Much research has investigated improving the effectiveness and fairness of the judicial system. One of the variables that has received attention regarding this is juror comprehension of sentencing instructions. This study utilized a transcript, modified from an actual murder and sexual battery trial transcript, to investigate the effects of timing of the sentencing instructions (before or after penalty phase testimony), simplicity of the instructions (standard or simplified), and race of the defendant (Caucasian or African American) on the overall sentencing outcomes for defendants. Overall, results showed that defendant race was not a significant predictor of the guilt decision for either capital murder or sexual battery. No relationship was found between defendant race and the decision to render a death sentence rather than life in prison without parole (LWOP). When the defendant was presented as Caucasian, the type of instruction (standard or simplified) was unrelated to sentence, but when the defendant was presented as African American the relationship between type of instruction and sentence was marginally significant. Similarities to, and differences from, results of previous research are addressed.