Date of Award

Spring 2-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

Forensic Psychology

Language

English

First Advisor

Deryn Strange

Second Reader

Charles Stone

Third Advisor

Jessica Karanian

Abstract

The utilization of visual evidence in the courtroom has increased exponentially in an effort to portray additional information that cannot otherwise be established via forensic evidence and expert testimony. According to Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence (1984), visual evidence may be permitted in court if the prejudicial value does not significantly outweigh the probative value. The admissibility of visual evidence however, becomes controversial when combined with victim impact statements (VIS) during the penalty phase of capital trials.

Previous research has indicated that jurors are often unable to perceive emotional testimony and subsequently make objective sentencing decisions that are based on reason rather than emotion. Moreover, previous literature has demonstrated that emotionally charged visual evidence can significantly distort jurors’ memories of case facts depending on their desire for retribution. Despite these findings, previous literature has not empirically explored the combined effects of emotional testimony and visual evidence on juror memory distortion and sentencing decisions.

The present study examined the combined effects of VIS and photographic evidence on juror memory distortion and sentencing decisions. Participants will be randomly assigned to three conditions and instructed to read identical murder trial transcripts and VIS during the penalty phase of a capital case. Participants were exposed to varying levels of emotionally charged photographs and instructed to subsequently sentence the defendant to either life in prison or to death. Participants’ memory recall and emotional states were evaluated. Implications are discussed.

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