November 17, 2007

Gory details sway jurors to convict

That's the fascinating finding from new research out of Australia. As reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald:
JURORS given gruesome evidence including pictures of a murder victim or descriptions of torture and mutilation are more than five times more likely to convict than jurors not given gory details, Australian research shows.

Findings from mock criminal trial studies by University of NSW researchers provide the first direct link indicating that juries might be prejudiced by such evidence and might make biased decisions influenced by a desire to punish.

One researcher, a university PhD candidate, David Bright, said both those studies, and a third with similar results involving a mock civil accident damages case, were the first in which "emotional reactions were directly measured in response to gruesome photos which were then shown to have an impact on decisions" of the mock jurors. The results underscore concern expressed more than 20 years ago by the Australian Law Reform Commission that allowing gruesome evidence could be prejudicial to defendants.

Mr Bright, soon to submit his PhD in forensic psychology, said Australian judges were more likely to override defence objections and admit gruesome evidence because its probative value, or ability to prove or disprove a controverted fact, outweighed any potential negative influence.

The story continues here.

Nov. 26 UPDATE: The jury consultation blog DELIBERATIONS has more detail on this topic.