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This essay will critically evaluate whether jurors can be relied upon to reach a fair verdict, by highlighting potential issues that could affect the jury making decision. One of the major threats to fair, logical, and rational jury decision-making is psychological bias, this essay will explore this in further detail by focusing on racial bias, the appearance of the victim defendant, and the CSI effect.

The jury system is a system where the verdict for a criminal case is decided by a jury. A jury is a group of people who work together to conclude a guilty or not guilty verdict, whilst following a set of rules on how they should collaborate to reach this decision. The jury is made up of 12 ordinary individuals who are between 18-75 years old and registered to vote; the individuals are randomly selected. The exclusion criteria include individuals who have criminal convictions or serious mental health issues.

It is important to research juries and the factors that could impact their decision making as the jury system is viewed as a key aspect of the legal system which allows for a fair trial and reflects the attitudes and beliefs of the general public. The jury system is utilized in serious cases and is highly valued in the Western world, therefore researching the factors that affect jury decision-making and trying to find ways to improve the accuracy of these decisions is vital. Jury decision-making is subject to many biases which can greatly impact the verdict.

Racial Bias

Racial bias can impact the decision of jurors and can lead to an unfair verdict. Although the death penalty does not exist, it is still used as a punishment in 27 states in the US. Many studies have found that jurors have a racial bias when sentencing black people as one study found that white male jurors were more likely to give black defendants the death penalty compared to their female or non-white counterparts (Lynch and Haney, 2011), racial bias allows for individuals to view certain groups as being inherently bad and therefore, to them, it is justifiable to harshly punish them.

However, racial bias is not just exhibited by white jurors, both black and white jurors are likely to show racial bias towards someone who is not the same race as them (Ugwuegbu, 1979). Whilst black jurors, as well as other ethnic minorities, can show the same racial bias as white jurors, the impact is not the same. Not only is there racial bias in jury members themselves, but also in jury selection. In American juries, black people are underrepresented as attorneys have the power to remove a member of the jury without providing a reason, this means that there will be more white jurors. There are also trial consultants whose aim is to select a jury that will favor their client. This is a significant issue as racial bias impacts both black defendants and black victims, an all-white jury is more likely to give a black defendant a guilty verdict and a non-guilty verdict if the victim is black. The effect of racial bias on black ethnic minorities compared to white defendant victims is disproportionate.

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On the other hand, it could be argued that whilst racial bias is a thing and allows people to play into harmful stereotypes, it might not have as big of an impact as thought, as some studies found that racial bias can be moderated depending on the context and details of the situation. Furthermore, it cannot be said conclusively that racial bias impacts every case as it is a very hard concept to measure.

Several researchers have tried to find ways to reduce racial bias in jurors to improve jury decision-making, one of the suggested solutions was making race salient. Race salience is drawing attention to race rather than ignoring it. Many studies have investigated the effect of race salience on racial bias and have found that it has aided in reducing racial bias.

Appearance of victim defendant

A lot of individuals have a stereotypical view of what a victim or criminal should look like, and this can influence jury decision-making. Jurors find victims that fit the ‘true victim’ stereotype to be believable and those who do not fit this image are deemed as less trustworthy, this is known as confirmation bias. Additionally, attractiveness also plays a part in influencing jury decision-making, attractive victims are seen as believable, and attractive defendants are perceived as less guilty and are less likely to be sentenced to death. Stereotypes allow individuals to comfortably process and understand information as it positively correlates with what they already believe, and these stereotypes can be so powerful that jurors will search for pieces of evidence during the trial that fit this confirmation bias rather than listening to both sides objectively. This is harmful to the deliverance of justice and affects the fairness of the verdict. A jury that judges and makes decisions based on appearance is not fit to provide a fair verdict.

CSI Effect

The CSI effect refers to the view that jurors are being significantly impacted by forensic crime shows as they are using the knowledge they have gained from these shows to deliberate whether the forensic evidence presented in a case is acceptable. This leads to a very out-of-touch perspective as jurors demand more forensic evidence than reasonable and, In some cases, deliver a not guilty verdict despite forensic evidence existing, this is because they felt that there should be more evidence present; evidence that they have seen In crime shows and expect to be present in every case. This naive outlook is not only frustrating for those involved in collecting evidence and building a case, but also for the victim who may be made to feel as though they are unworthy of justice as their crime did not occur ‘properly’ according to these jurors

Despite the belief that a CSI effect exists, there is very little empirical evidence of its existence (Podlas, 2017). The popularity of the CSI effect is mostly the effect of prosecutors and judges believing that media can strongly impact the perception and beliefs of jurors. It can be assumed that a juror would be able to differentiate between a television show and a real-life scenario which drastically impacts the individuals involved.

References

      1. Ugwuegbu, D., 1979. Racial and evidential factors in juror attribution of legal responsibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 15(2), pp.133-146.
      2. Lynch, M. and Haney, C., 2011. Mapping the Racial Bias of the White Male Capital Juror: Jury Composition and the ‘Empathic Divide’. Law

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