'Discuss the factors that affect jury decision making' In a court of law, the jury is expected to be neutral and unbiased. This is simply due to the need for a fair trial. There are many factors that may affect the decision making of the jury, and inevitably result in a biased jury. Pretrial publicity, meaning the media coverage of the crime and the trial, is a major factor that can affect jury decisions. Pretrial publicity may bias potential jurors and harm a defendant's chances of a fair trial. It is difficult to disregard all preconceptions of someone or something when exposed to even minimal amounts of media hype.
For example, linking people's names with incriminating events can result in negative impressions of people, even when the media deny such a connection. Wegner et al. (1981) found that a headline reading "Bob Talbert not linked with Mafia" increased negative perceptions of the target compared to headlines of a milder nature e. g. "Bob Talbert Innocent". It appears that despite the criminal contempt of court law (that is very rarely used against the media) there are little or no ways of preventing pretrial publicity from influencing jury decisions.
'Criminal contempt of court may be defined as any act done or any thing published tending to obstruct, impair, or interfere with the fair administration of justice or to bring the courts or judge into contempt; or any act done or writing published tending to obstruct or interfere with the due course of justice or lawful process of the courts' Yet there is nothing to stop the press from printing page after page of biased and very often highly opinionated coverage before, during and after any case they wish.
The only other step taken in an attempt to avoid pretrial publicity effecting cases is a judicial instruction to disregard it. Another key factor to regard when considering jury decision-making is the attractiveness of the defendant. There is substantial evidence to show that jury sentences are harsher for those who are considered to be 'unattractive'. M. F. Kaplan and L. E. Miller (1978) found that when the defendant was attractive, judgments shifted toward acquittal, but when the defendant was unattractive, there was no such shift. As a result, mock juries were more likely to acquit the attractive defendant.
Downs & Lyons (1991) had police escorts rate the physical attractiveness of 1742 defendants appearing before 40 Texas judges in misdemeanor cases. The judges set greater bails and fines for less attractive defendants. Also, research has been carried out into the role that the race of the defendant plays in the jury's verdict. Hedges & Boyd (1988) found that African Americans are more likely to be convicted of the same crime than Caucasians by a mock jury. This is true to real life figures, as well as the fact that African Americans typically receive longer sentences than Caucasians convicted of similar crimes.
There are many other factors that affect the decisions made by juries that have been identified by research. Stephan and Stephan (1986) had English-speaking people judge someone accused of assault. They were more likely to think the person not guilty if the defendant's testimony was in English, rather than translated from Spanish or Thai. Amato (1979) had Australian students read evidence concerning a left or right wing person accused of a politically motivated burglary, they judged the defendant less guilty if his or her political views were similar to their own.
Juries should be influenced only by facts, but there has been some evidence shown that juries can also be influenced by the defendant's behavior during the trial. Previous studies have found that sentencing by jurors were lighter when the defendant appeared remorseful (Rumsey, 1976). So it would appear then that with so many factors affecting the decisions made by the jury, the idea of an unbiased jury is just unrealistic.