Presenting abhorrent evidence may impact members of the jury to unreasonably convict a defendant in some inadmissible manner, for instance, by inciting an emotional response, or giving more weight to the evidence. In this study, researchers wanted to analyze if verbal or visual gruesome evidence has an impact on the evaluation of evidence by mock jurors’, if there is an influence of verbal or visual gruesome evidence on the moods and emotional states of those mock jurors’ and if their reaction to the evidence will cause jurors to make biased judgments against the defendant. Initially, a small-scale preliminary study with seventy-eight undergraduates was conducted.
Those participants were randomly assigned to either verbal gruesome or verbal non-gruesome conditions and color photographs or black-and-white photograph conditions. They were tasked with rating the evidence on a 5-point scale that measured how gruesome, upsetting, and disgusting they considered the evidence to be.
Then in a 2 x 3 study consisting of one hundred and two undergraduate psychology students, the participants were assigned to a verbal evidence condition or a visual evidence condition. Using a similar methodology to the initial experiment, participants read a summary regarding the murder of the defendants’ wife. The Juror Negative Affect Scale was completed by the participants to be used as a baseline measure for negative affect.
Utilizing five-point and seven-point scales provided researchers with information on the jurors’ feelings, their verdict, confidence in their verdict, the likelihood that the defendant committed murder, the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence, any uncertainty about the defendant’s guilt, sympathy towards the victim, and anger towards the defendant. In result, the influence of gruesome verbal evidence on mock jurors emotional states was not present and did not affect the conviction rate. Additionally, less guilty verdicts were rendered in the no photograph condition than those who were exposed to gruesome images. Gruesome photographic evidence made jurors angrier at the defendant, which increased conviction rates. Lastly, mock jurors held the prosecution’s evidence at a higher standard when gruesome photographs were presented than when no photograph was present.
The first limitation is in the jury selection process. Once the mock jurors were selected, there is no indication that voir dire was conducted. In a real-world context, most jurors are susceptible to a wide variety of biases and errors that can influence the defense or the prosecution. Individuals are also reluctant to admit to their own biases publicly, so they shape their attitudes and judgments to fit the part.
The objective of voir dire is to allow the counsel to assemble adequate data about the jurors in order to make an educated decision about how those jurors biases may interfere with the deliberation of the evidence. Also, to acquaint the jurors with legal concepts and benefits that come with a juror’s ability to be impartial. Specifically, in criminal cases, either the defense or prosecution can benefit from these techniques. Generalizability is also reduced when the sample is primarily comprised of undergraduate students; therefore, the study needs to randomize the sample to be more representative of an entire population.
Another limitation is only using a series of close-ended questions. A close-ended question gives participants a limited number of answers to choose from. In the study, the researchers documented their findings based on a series of five-point and seven-point scales. Due to the simplicity and limit of the answers, it may not offer the participants the opportunity to reflect their true feelings. In contrast, if the study utilized some open-ended questions it would have allowed participants to include more information about their attitudes and understanding of the situation.
They could also help cut down on types of response errors. For example, the likelihood of the participant forgetting their answer decreases if they can respond in their own words. Additionally, open-ended questions are useful because the participant has to thoroughly read and respond to the question, which prevents them from filling out the questions with all the same answers.
Overall, this research has important implications for understanding the legal system. The study indicated that there is a correlation between photographic evidence and the likelihood that a defendant will be convicted of a crime. Further examinations should be done to investigate the limitations of the study and how they can be improved.