Juries and Sentences

Presented by Leandra Frye

In the 1960s and 1970s researchers heavily studied ways that attributes of a defendant (likability and attractiveness for example) can shape perceptions of guilt or innocence and therefore affect juries’ verdicts:

1960s

1969: A defendant’s character and the attractiveness of the victim can greatly affect how the jury perceives guilt or innocence (Landy & Aronson, 1969):

Landy & Aronson (1969) studied  how the character of  the defendant and attractiveness of the victim can influence a jury’s decision.  Subjects in their study were given a description of a case where the victim’s attractiveness was manipulated and instructed to decide how they would sentence the defendant:

  • When the victim of a crime was attractive, the defendant was more likely to be sentenced to a longer time in prison by a simulated jury than when the victim was unattractive.
  • When the defendants were unattractive, they were more likely to be sentenced to more years in prison by a simulated jury.
  • Defendants who were more liked were given more leniency by the simulated jury.

1970s

1974: Physical appearance and character of the defendants and how guilty they appear:

  • A survey given to college students revealed interesting opinions. 79% of them believed that a decision of guilt or innocence by a jury should be based off of character and previous history (Efran, 1974).
  • Almost all of them, 93%, said that physical appearance should not bias the decision of the jury. This was a good thing that the students said physical attractiveness should not be a factor in jury decisions, but research with a simulated jury found that it can be.
  • Physically attractive defendants were more likely to get uncertainty of guilt more than unattractive defendants and also more lenient sentences.

1975: Attractiveness of the defendant can determine how lenient (or not) the jury is (Sigall & Ostrove, 1975):

Sigall and Ostrove (1975) studied how attributes of a person, like attractiveness, that can change a juries’ sentencing of the defendant. In order to experimentally test this phenomenon, they took samples of subjects and put them on simulated juries. The subjects were presented with a case that they had to determine a sentence for. The attractiveness of the defendant was manipulated so that the defendant was attractive, unattractive, or not specified:

  • Attractiveness of the defendants and the nature of the crime worked together to determine how members of a jury would sentence them.
  • When the crime was not at all related to attractiveness (for example, burglary) the jury was more likely to give leniency to the defendant.
  • If, however, the crime involved the defendant using their attractiveness in order to commit the crime. An example of this would be swindling (cheating someone out of money). The juries were more likely to give harsher sentences in these cases.
  • No difference was found for defendants for which no information about attractiveness was given
  • Why would results like this be seen? – Those who are more physically attractive may be liked more (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Sigall & Ostrove, 1975) and can be attributed qualities that are valued in society. This liking of the defendant could translate into a more lenient sentence. With attractiveness related crimes, the jury may see the defendant as abusing their “gift” (attractiveness) in order to con others and may give a harsher sentence in these instances. With unattractive defendants, the jury may think that they are more likely to transgress in the future so a harsher sentence can be given in this instance (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972).

Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 24(3), 285-290.

Efran, M.G. (1974). The effect of physical appearance on the judgment of guilt, interpersonal attraction, and severity of recommended punishment in a simulated jury task. Journal of Research in Personality. 8(1), 45-54.

Landy, D., Aronson, E. (1969). The influence of the character of the criminal and his victim on the decisions of a simulated jury. Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology. 5(2), 141-152.

Sigall, H., Ostrove, N. (1975). Beautiful but dangerous: effects of offender attractiveness and nature of the crime on juridic judgement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 31(3), 410-414.

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