Dateline: May, 2007, Issue 5

How does alcohol use affect jurors' judgments of sexual assault?

Two recent studies have examined the role alcohol plays in jurors' perceptions of defendants and complainants in sexual assault cases.

In 1998, Schuller looked at the consumption of alcohol or soda by a defendant, and by a complainant, in a sexual assault case. When the defendant consumed alcohol, as opposed to cola, jurors were more likely to find the defendant guilty. When the complainant consumed alcohol, as opposed to cola, jurors found the complainant less credible and were less likely to find the defendant guilty.

In 2000, Wall and Schuller examined how levels of intoxication affected jurors' verdicts in sexual assault cases. When the complainant was sober, as the defendant went from being sober to moderately intoxicated to extremely intoxicated, jurors became harsher and harsher in their verdicts. When the complainant was moderately intoxicated, more guilty verdicts occurred when the defendant was similarly inebriated. When the complainant was extremely intoxicated, the defendant's beverage consumption did not have any discernible effect on jurors' verdicts.

Intoxicated complainants are not credible to jurors, and defendants are less likely to be found guilty. Relatively sober complainants of intoxicated defendants are credible to jurors, and defendants are more likely to be found guilty.

Source Schuller, R. A. (1998). The effects of defendant and complainant intoxication on mock jurors' judgments of sexual assault. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22, pp. 555-573.

Source Wall, A-M. & Schuller, R. A. (2000). Sexual assault and defendant/victim intoxication: Jurors' perceptions of guilt. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, pp. 253-274.