Dateline: December, 2007, Issue 2

Are judges better than juries at setting inadmissible evidence aside?

Landsman and Rakos (1994) tested whether judges, due to their training and experience, are better than juries at ignoring biasing or inadmissible material.

In this research, 88 judges and 104 jurors rendered liability verdicts on a products liability case. When presented the case information, a third of the judges and jurors were presented biasing information harmful to the defendant's case along with an instruction that this evidence had been ruled to be legally inadmissible and must not be considered in reaching a verdict. Another third of the judges and jurors were presented this same biasing information and instructed only that this evidence had been ruled to be legally inadmissible. The final third of the judges and jurors were not presented the biasing information.

Not surprisingly, the introduction of inadmissible evidence that is harmful to the defendant's case increased the number of plaintiff verdicts.

Perhaps more surprising is that judges were not better than juries at ignoring the inadmissible evidence. Judges and jurors alike rendered verdicts unfavorable to the defendant in the same proportions when exposed to the inadmissible evidence.

The researchers conclude that judges' training and experience provide no special capacity to set objectionable evidence aside.

Source Landsman, S. & Rakos, R. F. (1994). A preliminary inquiry into the effect of potentially biasing information on judges and jurors in civil litigation. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 12, pp. 113-126.