Effects of Jurors' Identification with the Victim Depend on Likelihood of Victimization*

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Abstract

Courtroom lore suggests that jurors identifying with rape victims will show antidefendant biases, but empirical findings do not unequivocally support this supposition. On theoretical bases, it was predicted that identification with the victim's gender would bias judgment against the defendant when the circumstances of the crime are likely to be encountered in the daily life of the juror or a related potential victim. Parents of female-only (PFs) or of male-only children (PMs) judged defendants in an alleged rape, occurring either in a library, where the victim had engaged in normal routine, or in a street, under unusual and risky conditions. PFs were more conviction-prone and punitive than PMs only for the library case. Findings support theories of defensive attribution (Shaver, 1970) and of attribution of actors and observers (Jones & Nisbett, 1972) but are inconsistent with a variant of defensive attribution (Walster, 1966) based on denial of chance occurrence of threatened harm. The systematic exclusion of jurors with certain characteristics from particular cases based on suppositional criteria is questioned, rigor of juror assessment notwithstanding. It is suggested that research concentrate on discovering the conditions under which biases are, or are not manifested, and on developing means of reducing bias effects in impaneled jurors.

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