Dateline: January, 2009, Issue 3

How does a juror's social class influence understanding of evidence?

Social class affects how jurors understand evidence. For example, social class affects whether jurors believe a criminal defendant is carrying a knife as a weapon intended to injure another person, or carrying it out of habit or for general protection.

Pennington and Hastie (1990) report how a juror's social class affects which interpretation is accepted for why a defendant in a murder trial had a knife in his possession at the time of the crime.

Jurors from wealthier suburbs typically inferred that the defendant intended to injure or kill the victim because he was carrying a knife at the time of the crime.

Jurors from poorer neighborhoods were not surprised that the defendant possessed a weapon and were more likely to accept the defense's claim that the defendant carried the knife either out of habit or for general protection.

Jurors' social class can affect which interpretations of evidence they find reasonable, and which unreasonable.

Source Pennington, N. & Hastie, R. (1990). Practical implications of psychological research on juror and jury decision making. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, pp. 90-105.