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11 Law & Hum. Behav. 1 (1987)

handle is hein.journals/lwhmbv11 and id is 1 raw text is: Law' and Human Behavior, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1987

Juror Decision Making
The Importance of Evidence*
Christy A. Vishert
Much of the research on juror decision making is concerned with whether jurors are swayed by
irrelevant-or extralegal-issues in their judgments of defendants. Such studies examine whether
jurors' attitudes and victims' and defendants' characteristics have a measurable impact on these deci-
sions. Yet, in the typical study, evidential issues are either poorly measured or ignored, hence the
effects of extralegal issues may be exaggerated. Moreover, jury simulations are often chosen to study
these questions despite critics' concerns about the generalizability of the results. The present study
uses data gathered from actual jurors to assess whether the emphasis on juror competence is justified.
The results indicate that these jurors' decisions are dominated by evidential issues, particularly evi-
dence concerning the use of force and physical evidence. Jurors were considerably less responsive to
characteristics of victims and defendants, although some of these factors significantly affected their
The jury is the only decision-making body in the criminal justice system com-
posed of laypersons. But recently it has been the center of increasing criticism.
Opponents of the jury system argue that persons who lack formal training and
knowledge of the law, but control decisions of life and liberty, cannot be expected
to render fair and impartial verdicts. Juries, the critics claim, fail to recall the
evidence accurately, become confused by complex trials or those involving mul-
tiple defendants, and are often swayed by legally irrelevant information (e.g.,
Kadish & Kadish, 1971; Scheflin & Van Dyke, 1980; Williams, .1963). Thus, the
* The research reported here was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health under grant
No. R01 MH29727 and the National Institute of Justice under grant No. 82-IJ-CX-0015. The author
would like to thank Douglas Smith, Barbara Reskin, and Lowell Hargens for helpful comments on
earlier drafts.
t Research Associate, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.

0147-7307/87/0300-0001505.00/0   1987 Plenum Publishing Corporation

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