Talking about a Black Man: The Influence of Defendant and Character Witness Race on Jurors' Use of Character Evidence

Authors


Evelyn Maeder, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University, Loeb C566, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa ON K1S 5B6, Canada. E-mail: evelyn_maeder@carleton.ca; or to Jennifer Hunt, Department of Psychology, SUNY College at Buffalo, Classroom Building C312, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo NY 14222. E-mail: huntjs@buffalostate.edu.

Abstract

To determine whether anti-Black bias influences mock jurors' use of character evidence (i.e., information about a defendant's personality), this study manipulated the race (Black, White) of the defendant and character witness and the type of character evidence presented in a fictitious criminal trial. Two hundred six predominantly White participants read a trial transcript, then made verdicts and trial judgments. Results confirm previous findings that positive character evidence has a limited impact on jurors' judgments, but negative character evidence is misused to evaluate the defendant's guilt. However, participants were more influenced by character evidence that was inconsistent with racial stereotypes. Specifically, positive character evidence had a stronger effect for Black defendants, whereas negative rebuttal evidence had a stronger influence for White defendants. The race of the character witness did not affect judgments. Thus, defendant race may provide a framework that influences how mock jurors process character evidence. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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