Dateline: March, 2022, Issue 2

How do legal attitudes of jurors affect verdicts in criminal cases?

Jurors do not experience a criminal trial as neutral blank slates. Jurors come to the trial with pre-existing attitudes and beliefs about many issues, including about the legal system.

Social science researchers have used the Pre-Trial Juror Attitude Questionnaire (PJAQ) to measure individuals' legal attitudes in criminal cases (Lecci & Myer, 2008). The PJAQ asks people to agree or disagree with statements that address their conviction proneness, confidence in the legal system, views of innate criminality, cynicism towards the defense, social justice and racial bias. People agreeing with many PJAQ statements have harsher attitudes toward criminal defendants. Statements on the PJAQ that people are asked to agree or disagree with include:

The PJAQ is able to predict jurors' verdicts in criminal cases. For example:

Jurors' attitudes about the legal system affect their verdicts in criminal cases. The more statements on the PJAQ that jurors endorse, the more harshly they judge a defendant.

Source Allison, M., Jung, S., Sweeney, L. & Culhane, S.E. (2014). The impact of illegal alibi activities, corroborator involvement and corroborator certainty on mock juror perceptions. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 21(2), pp. 191-204.

Source Curly, L.J., Murray, J., Maclean, R., Munro, J., Lages, M., Frumkin, L.A., Laybourn, P. & Brown D. (2021). Verdict spotting: Investigating the effects of juror bias, evidence anchors, and verdict system in jurors. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 38(8), pp. AHEAD-OF-PRINT 1-22 (published online May 4, 2021).

Source Estrada-Reynolds, V., Gray, J. & Nunez, N. (2015). Information integration theory, juror bias, and sentence recommendations captured over time in a capital trial. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29(5), pp. 713-722.

Source Lecci, L. & Myers, B. (2008). Individual differences in attitudes relevant to juror decision making: Development and validation of the Pretrial Juror Attitude Questionnaire (PJAQ). Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38(8), pp. 2010-2038.

Source Schmersal, L.A.. (2009). Pre-existing attitudes about the legal system: The thirteenth juror? Masters Thesis: University of Texas at El Paso, Department of Psychology. Open Access Theses & Dissertations. 354.