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Attorney and lay beliefs about factors affecting jurors' perceptions of juvenile offender culpability

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We surveyed attorneys and college students to learn what factors they believe influence jurors' perceptions of juvenile offender culpability and then varied two of these factors in a simulated case to determine their actual effects on mock jurors' decisions. In Study 1, attorneys (N=30) and undergraduate mock jurors (N=47) believed that a juvenile offender's youthful (versus adult-like) appearance would mitigate jurors' ratings of juvenile culpability. Both groups believed that jurors' perceptions of juvenile crime trends would not have an impact on culpability. In Study 2, undergraduate mock jurors (N=193) read a simulated juvenile case accompanied by a photograph of a youthful versus adult-like defendant. Mock jurors who believed that juvenile crime is increasing were more likely to render guilty verdicts, but their verdicts were not affected by the juvenile's youthful appearance. Mock jurors' sentencing recommendations did not vary as a function of the juvenile's appearance or their perceptions of juvenile crime trends. Psychologists and defense attorneys may wish to emphasize the developmental immaturity of their clients to decrease their culpability to jurors, although it is unclear how large an effect this will have on verdicts and sentencing recommendations in practice.

Keywords: attorney and lay beliefs; juror decision making; juvenile delinquency; juvenile offenders; law; sentencing

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Psychology,University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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