Dateline: October, 2008, Issue 3

Are jurors' verdicts harsher when the most severe verdict option is decided first or last?

In criminal cases, jurors frequently are instructed in, and given a verdict form with, multiple verdict options in the form of lesser included charges. The most severe verdict option (e.g., murder) is instructed first, with lesser included options (e.g., manslaughter) decided afterwards. The sequence in which jurors make decisions influences the verdicts they reach.

Greenberg and colleagues (1986) found that when verdict options were introduced in order ranging from the most to the least severe, jurors render harsher verdicts than when the possible verdicts are arranged from least to most severe.

In sum, jurors render harsher verdicts when asked to decide the most severe verdict option first.

Source Greenberg, J., Williams, K. D., & O'Brien, M. K. (1986). Considering the harshest verdict first: Biasing effects on mock juror verdicts. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 12, pp. 41-50.