Decision making in juries

o study the decision making of juries mock juries and shadow juries are used ( i. e. ‘real’ juries are not used as this is banned by law). Mock juries do a role play of a case, shadow juries observe a real case then discuss guilt/innocence but their opinion is not given to the real court. In mock juries variables such as the characteristics of the defendant can be controlled, however the group may not be representative of a randomly selected jury, scenarios may not be as complex as those in reality and the situations lack consequences – they are not true to life (lacking ecological validity).

The majority influence may have an impact on the decision making of juries, and this is where a larger number of people influence the decision of a smaller number of people. Many believe that if a larger number of a group think something is correct, maybe it really is correct, and the minority feel anxious and conform to reduce their uncomfortable feelings. Asch showed that people are prepared to conform to a group opinion in a non-ambiguous situation even though they disagreed so they did not come across as deviant, suggesting this could occur in a jury when their decisions are being made, causing significant concern for the judicial system as true judgements from each juror are not coming across. Smith and Mackie suggested a number of factors for why the majority position is so powerful.

When the majority are giving their opinion they have a larger number of varied arguments, and Hintz and Davis state that in a jury situation, the minority are likely to be persuaded by arguments they had not thought of themselves, causing them to be swayed by the majority view. Majority arguments tend to be discussed for longer which could be another reason why it has such a great influence.

One study set up a scenario where one member of a group received information that the rest were unaware of, and other members were given shared information. The shared information was discussed the most despite all information was asked to be discussed, almost excluding the individual with the non-shared information. (Stasser and Stewart 1992). Therefore showing the influence of majority. Minority influence has also been investigated. Moscovici argued that Asch had put too much emphasis on the idea of the majority having a large influence on the minority.

According to Moscovici it is also possible for the minority to influence the majority. He demonstrated the minority influence in a laboratory situation which was perhaps not representative of what must take place if it were to be successful in a jury. It is not as powerful as majority influence so has fewer implications for the decision making. Another reason why minority influence may have less of an impact is that in Britain a jury doesn’t have to be unanimous for a conviction – a majority agreement would suffice.

There is some dispute over what behavioural characteristics contribute to a minority gaining influence over a majority. Individuals must be consistent and flexible, and Nemeth states that when a minority stick to a consistent argument it causes the majority to question their own views and scrutinise the minority view, possibly ending with the majority being persuaded by the minority view. However, they need to be consistent in their opinions over time and willing to discuss why they disagree with the majority rather than being rigid. Larger minorities are more effective than lone dissenters in mock juries (Tindale et al) and increasing numbers have greater effect (Wood et al).

Increasing minorities cannot be easily dismissed. Characteristics of the defendant may also influence the decision-making of juries. The characteristics of the defendant have also been shown to influence judges and juries, which include physical attractiveness and ethnicity. People hold stereotypes that criminals have a certain type of facial appearance, which is believed to be unattractive. Attractive people are likely to be thought of as happy, intelligent and truthful individuals not capable of being criminals.

Evidence comes from Saladin et al who conducted an experiment and found that unattractive men were considered more likely to commit crimes such as murder and armed robbery than attractive men. Futhur, Downs and Lyons investigated 1500 real defendants and found attractiveness and amount of fine to be negatively correlated, so perhaps looks do play a part in the sentencing and verdict. This study has quite a large sample of defendants so improving the reliability of the findings of attractiveness. However, it is also a correlational study so it only shows a relationship between attractiveness and influence on juries and does not establish cause and effect.

Even though many studies provide evidence that physical attractiveness can reduce sentencing, it has been found that if a criminal is perceived as using their attractiveness in the crime for their own gain e. g. Fraud, jurors would penalise them for it. The ethnicity of the defendant may also affect the decision making of the jury, which links to prejudice and racial stereotyping. In a National Survey it was found that prior to the OJ Simpson trial 77% of white respondents thought the evidence against him was fairly strong whereas 45% of black respondents thought this.

It is likely that we are more likely to identify with those from our own race which may explain these results. The ethnicity of the victim may also affect the outcome. Henderson and Taylor found the defendant was more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim was white. Pfeiffer and Ogloff found white participants were more likely to judge a black than white man guilty in a rape case; supporting the view that race affects decisions, possibly based on prejudices.

Baldwin and McConville found black defendants were more likely to have been wrongly convicted than wrongly acquitted even if members of the jury were black. However, Mazzella and Feingold found no overall effect of ethnicity on mock jury decisions of guilt/innocence, contrary to studies who found ethnicity had an effect. The type of crime may interact with other variables such as ethnicity. Gordon et al varied the type of crime with the ethnicity of the defendant and found that a white embezzler received a significantly longer sentence than the black embezzler, but when the crime was burglary the situation was reversed. This suggests that jurors have racial stereotypes and as such hold some groups more accountable for their actions.