Effects of Considering Who and Why the Defendant Attacked1


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    We would like to thank the reviewers for their helpful comments. Portions of this study were presented at the 1998 American Psychology–Law Society Biennial Conference in Redondo Beach, California This research was supported in part by a Rider University Grant.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Wendy P. Heath, Psychology Department, Rider University, 2083 Lawrenceville Road. Lawrenceville, NJ 08648. e-mail: heath@rider.ed.


Some people who are accused of a crime admit to the act, but provide an excuse. The effects of an excuse's self-inflictedness level (high, moderate, or low) and the type of victim attacked (one partially responsible for the defendant's excusing condition, or innocent victim) were investigated. After a pretest (N= 26) to choose stimuli, participants (N= 220) read a scenario in which a male attacks another and then, once on trial, gives an excuse for his act. Those giving highly vs. less self-inflicted excuses were more likely to receive a guilty verdict, received higher guilt level ratings, and tended to receive longer sentences; those who hurt an innocent vs. a partially responsible victim were more likely to be found guilty. In addition, the defendant's sentence was influenced by both the type of victim and the self-inflictedness level of the excuse. The influence of perceived responsibility for an act on jurors' decisions is discussed