Date of Degree

9-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Herbert Saltzstien

Committee Members

Angela Crossman

Maureen O'Connor

Margaret-Ellen Pipe

Toni Spring

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Other Psychology | Social Psychology

Keywords

Jury, Harm, Outcome, Bias, Intentionality

Abstract

In the United States criminal justice system, jurors are directed to determine a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by establishing both the act of committing a crime (actus reus) and the culpable mental state of the defendant (mens rea), that is, the defendant’s intentionality. The role of a juror in a criminal case is that of a factfinder, deciding whether the two elements of the crime have been met. Criminal cases where jurors are asked to decide the facts vary in the harm that resulted. The more severe the harm, the greater the perceived injustice. This research examines if a motivation to reduce perceived injustice influences determinations of intentionality (mens rea), verdict decisions, and deserved punishment. Lastly, it examines if the court’s suggested remedy to mitigate the effects of biasing information—an instruction to disregard—is an effective solution. This study finds that there is a greater attribution of intentionality to a defendant’s actions when the harm resulting from an alleged crime is more severe. More severe harm also predicts greater belief in guilt, although this is mediated by intentionality. In addition to these findings, more severe harm and greater attribution of intentionality also predict harsher punishment. Whether the victim was an adult or child does not impact the attribution of intentionality, verdict decisions, or punishment. An instruction to disregard biasing information is ineffective. Results are discussed in the context of the just-world theory (Lerner & Miller, 1978) and demonstrate a need in the criminal justice system for an empirically-driven re-examination of the balance between prejudicial versus probative evidence.

 
 

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