Dateline: April, 2007, Issue 5

How do jurors understand elder abuse and neglect cases?

Three recent studies examined how jurors' perceptions of the elderly affect verdicts in cases of elder abuse and elder neglect. One study looked at the health of the elderly person, another at the age of jurors, and another at the gender of jurors.

In an elder neglect case, Golding and colleagues (2004) looked at how the health of an elderly person affected verdicts. Jurors read summaries of a neglect case. Half of the jurors read that an elderly female had a cognitive deficit, while the other half read that the elderly person had a physical disability. More guilty verdicts occurred when the elderly person had a cognitive deficit than when she had a physical disability. Jurors believe neglect is more likely when the elderly person is at a cognitive disadvantage.

In an elder abuse case, Stewart (2001) found that the age of jurors mattered in the verdicts that were reached in a case involving a man accused of physically assaulting his elderly mother. Middle-aged jurors believed the elderly mother more than younger or older jurors. Older jurors were not influenced by whether the elderly mother was healthy or confused, although young jurors were more likely to believe the elderly mother when she was described as healthy than when she was described as confused.

In an elder abuse case, Golding and colleagues (2005) looked at how the gender of jurors influenced verdicts. Women believed the elderly victim more and rendered a guilty verdict more often than men. The age of the elderly victim -- described to some jurors as 66, some as 76, and some as 86 years old - did not have any effect on guilty verdicts.

In sum, defendants are found guilty more often when accused of hurting elderly victims having cognitive deficits versus physical deficits (except for young jurors). Female and middle-aged jurors are more likely to judge defendants guilty of elder abuse/neglect than are male, young or elderly jurors.

Source Golding, J. M., Allen, J., Yozwiak, J. A., Marsil, D.F., & Kinstle, T. S. (2004). Perceptions of elder neglect in the courtroom. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 16, pp. 23-46.

Source Stewart, T. L. (2001). Elder abuse in the criminal courtroom: A mock juror study. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 61 (11-B), p. 6150.

Source Golding, J. M., Yozwiak, J. A., Kinstle, T. S., & Marsil, D. F. (2005). The effect of gender in the perception of elder physical abuse in court. Law and Human Behavior, 29, pp. 605-614.