Dateline: November, 2008, Issue 4

How does jurors' authoritarianism affect criminal verdicts?

Jurors who are authoritarian have a desire for order and well-defined rules, conform to conventional norms, and exhibit a desire to punish individuals who deviate from those norms. Authoritarians are often hostile to "out-group" members which, historically in the U.S., has included Jews, communists, sexual offenders, members of the women's movement, and many other easily identified groups.

Authoritarian jurors often favor the prosecution in criminal trials. Authoritarian jurors typically have better recall of prosecutorial evidence than defense evidence (Garcia & Griffitt, 1978), are more conviction prone (e.g., Bray & Noble, 1978; Lamberth, Kreiger & Shay, 1982; Moran & Comfort, 1982), and recommend longer prison sentences for convicted defendants (Bray & Noble, 1978; McGowen & King, 1982).

This general tendency of authoritarian jurors to be prosecution oriented is minimized (or even reversed) in some instances:

In sum, authoritarian jurors are generally more prosecution-oriented. However, when the defendant is similar to the juror, of higher status or is acting in obedience to authority, authoritarian generally lean more toward the defense.

Source Garcia, L., & Griffitt, W. (1978). Evaluation and recall of evidence: Authoritarianism and the Patty Hearst case. Journal of Research in Personality, 12, pp. 57-67.

Source Bray, R. M., & Noble, A. M. (1978). Authoritarianism and decisions of mock juries: Evidence of jury bias and group polarization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, pp. 1424-1430.

Source Lamberth, J., Kreiger, E. & Shay, S. (1982). Juror decision-making: A case of attitude change mediated by authoritarianism. Journal of Research in Personality, 16, pp. 419-434.

Source Moran, G. & Comfort, J. C. (1982). Scientific jury selection: Sex as a moderator of demographic and personality predictors of impaneled felony juror behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, pp. 1052-1063.

Source McGowen, R. & King, G. D. (1982). Effects of authoritarian, anti-authoritarian, and egalitarian legal attitudes on mock juror and jury decisions. Psychological Reports, 51, pp. 1067-1074.

Source Mitchell, H. & Byrne, D. (1973). The defendant's dilemma: Effects of jurors' attitudes and authoritarianism on judicial decision. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25, pp. 123-129.

Source Berg, K. & Vidmar, N. (1975). Authoritarianism and recall of evidence about criminal behavior. Journal of Research in Personality, 9, pp. 147-157.

Source Hamilton, V. L. (1978). Obedience and responsibility: A jury simulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, pp. 126-146.