Before a Case Comes to Trial
- Eyewitnesses, even though trying their best to tell the truth, can be mistaken in their identification of perpetrators. Laypeople’s guesses about what kinds of factors influence witness accuracy can be wide of the mark. Police investigators and jurors have less than perfect ability to assess witness accuracy. Fortunately, police and courts have instituted procedures that lessen the likelihood of conviction due to mistaken identification.
- Some confessions are false, even when coercion is not great. In response to this evidence, some jurisdictions require videotaping of all interrogations. Jurors are poor judges of whether confessions are false or not.
In the Courtroom
- Jury selection begins with a process called voir dire, in which the judge and the prosecuting and defense attorneys try to determine whether potential jurors are impartial. Using scientific jury selection, attorneys accept or reject juror candidates on the basis of demographic and statistical data. There is controversy over whether only jurors who would sentence a criminal to death should serve in capital cases. Studies have shown that death-qualified juries are more likely to convict than those in which some jurors have reservations about the death penalty.
- In cases where a minority of jurors dissent from their fellow jurors’ verdict, the initial majority verdict usually is ultimately handed down. Juries smaller than 12 people are allowed in some jurisdictions, but social psychological studies on conformity suggest that larger juries are more likely to consider the opinions of a minority of jurors. When verdicts do not need to be unanimous among jurors, juries spend less time deliberating after the necessary majority is reached.
- Compensatory damage awards are intended to make up for any loss the plaintiff has suffered; punitive damage awards are intended to deter the defendant and others from acting similarly in the future. Compensatory damages are often straightforward, but punitive damages can be highly subjective and based on arbitrary comparisons and anchors.
Punishment: Why We Punish and What Makes It Fair
- Two motives that guide punishment are the just desserts motive, intended to avenge a crime, and deterrence, intended to prevent the crime from happening again.
- Differing attributions and emotions may lead to variations in preferred forms of punishment. Believing that a criminal has acted willfully and is responsible for his actions leads to feelings of anger and a preference for just desserts forms of punishment. Believing that situational factors led, in large part, to the criminal act leads to feelings of sympathy and a preference for more deterrence-oriented punishment.
- Social psychological studies have produced evidence for racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system. Stereotypes about blacks and Latinos being more likely to commit crimes may lead to a greater likelihood that -people in those groups will be investigated, convicted, and punished.
Perceptions of Fairness of the Criminal Justice System
- Procedural justice refers to people’s assessments of whether the processes that result in the distribution of rewards and punishments are fair. If people feel that the system is neutral and trustworthy and that they have been treated with respect, they are more likely to believe that outcomes are fair, regardless of the magnitude of the punishment or reward.