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Abstract

With the progression to more adult-like policies and procedures for youth in the justice system, the right to a jury trial has been extended to young offenders. These youth would not be tried by a jury of their peers, however, but by a jury of adults. The concern is that adult jurors may hold negative attitudes about youth that might influence their decision making in a case involving a young defendant. Two studies examined whether and under what conditions defendant's age affects jurors' decisions about the guilt and sentencing of an accused. In study 1, data were gathered from two samples of jury eligible adults: one university sample and one public sample. Mock jurors read written transcripts of a trial involving a defendant who was presented as either 13, 17, or 25 years of age. Results indicated that the defendant's age had no effect on mock jurors' verdict or their ratings of defendant guilt. However, younger defendants were granted shorter sentences than the adult defendants. In study 2, mock jurors read the same trial presented in study 1 but were asked to deliberate about the case and render group verdicts. These group verdicts did not differ significantly by defendant's age. Age-related themes that emerged from group deliberations were identified, and results indicated that age tended to be used as a mitigating factor in favor of youth rather than against them. These findings are discussed in terms of their implications for youth justice policy and practice. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.