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Examining the Prejudicial Effects of Gang Evidence on Jurors

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This study was designed to examine the potential biasing effects of gang association on mock juror verdicts. Three hundred and fifteen undergraduate psychology students watched one of three versions of a simulated trial that included opening and closing arguments by the defense and prosecution, together with direct and cross-examination of the investigating officer and the victim/eyewitness. The three versions differed only in regard to mention of the defendant's gang association. Gang association was manipulated by having the defendant described as either seen hanging out with gang members on the night of the incident (gang affiliate) or being a documented gang member with a gang tattoo (hardcore gang member). In the control condition, no mention of gangs was made. As predicted, when testimony on gang affiliation was introduced, guilty verdicts increased significantly. Overall, participants were more likely to find the defendant guilty in the gang affiliate and hardcore gang conditions when compared to the no-gang control condition. Various explanations for this effect are examined, and the implications of these data are discussed.
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Examining the Prejudicial Effects of
Gang Evidence on Jurors
Mitchell L. Eisen Phd a , Dayna M. Gomes Ms b , Lindsey Wandry Ms
c , David Drachman Ms a , Amanda Clemente Ms a & Cheryl Groskopf
Ms a
a Department of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles,
California
b Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby,
British Columbia, Canada
c Department of Psychology, University of California, Irvine,
California
Version of record first published: 22 Jan 2013.
To cite this article: Mitchell L. Eisen Phd , Dayna M. Gomes Ms , Lindsey Wandry Ms , David Drachman
Ms , Amanda Clemente Ms & Cheryl Groskopf Ms (2013): Examining the Prejudicial Effects of Gang
Evidence on Jurors, Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 13:1, 1-13
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15228932.2012.713831
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Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 13:1–13, 2013
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ISSN: 1522-8932 print/1522-9092 online
DOI: 10.1080/15228932.2012.713831
ARTICLES
Examining the Prejudicial Effects of Gang
Evidence on Jurors
MITCHELL L. EISEN, PhD
Department of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles, California
DAYNAM.GOMES,MS
Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
LINDSEY WANDRY, MS
Department of Psychology, University of California, Irvine, California
DAVID DRACHMAN, MS, AMANDA CLEMENTE, MS,
and CHERYL GROSKOPF, MS
Department of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles, California
This study was designed to examine the potential biasing effects
of gang association on mock juror verdicts. Three hundred and
fifteen undergraduate psychology students watched one of three
versions of a simulated trial that included opening and clos-
ing arguments by the defense and prosecution, together with
direct and cross-examination of the investigating officer and the
victim/eyewitness. The three versions differed only in regard to
mention of the defendant’s gang association. Gang association
was manipulated by having the defendant described as either seen
hanging out with gang members on the night of the incident (gang
affiliate) or being a documented gang member with a gang tattoo
(hardcore gang member). In the control condition, no mention of
gangs was made. As predicted, when testimony on gang affiliation
was introduced, guilty verdicts increased significantly. Overall,
participants were more likely to find the defendant guilty in the
gang affiliate and hardcore gang conditions when compared to
Address correspondence to Mitchell L. Eisen, Department of Psychology, California State
University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, King Hall 3rd floor, Los Angeles, CA
90032. E-mail: meisen@calstatela.edu
1
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2M. L. Eisen et al.
the no-gang control condition. Various explanations for this effect
are examined, and the implications of these data are discussed.
KEYWORDS bias, jury decision making, mock juror, mock trial,
extralegal factors
BIAS AGAINST GANG-AFFILIATED DEFENDANTS
When the evidence against a defendant is weak or ambiguous, jurors are
often influenced by extralegal factors in determining guilt or innocence
(Reskin & Visher, 1986). One extralegal factor that frequently comes up at
trial, but has not been studied well, is the effects of gang evidence on juror
decision making. In California and other states, it has become increasingly
common for defendants to be charged with special gang enhancements.
According to California Penal Code Section 186.22, a defendant can be
charged with the gang enhancement if it is determined that the crime was
committed in the service of, or in association with, a gang (e.g., People
v. Ngoun, 2001). These gang enhancements increase the sentences for the
crime from 2 years to as much as 10 years (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/).
In addition, in the State of California for example, gang enhancements for
misdemeanor crimes such as spraying graffiti can make the crime a strike.
If a defendant accumulates three strikes in California, the sentence is 25 to
life (see Ewing v. California, 2003, in which the third strike was a golf club
theft). In addition, in most states, if a defendant is charged with a gang
enhancement, the jury will invariably hear testimony from a gang expert,
who will generally describe the inner workings of a violent criminal street
gang whose business is crime and violence in the service of intimidating and
terrorizing the community at large (e.g., People v. Gardeley, 1996).
Added gang enhancements have become a powerful tool for the pros-
ecution in recent years. It can be argued that gang enhancements not only
increase the penalty for the crime but provide an unintended secondary
effect of alerting the jury to the fact that by virtue of his or her gang mem-
bership, the defendant is a danger to society, independent of the charges
being pressed in the current case. Because there is a great deal of pros-
ecutorial discretion in charging gang enhancements and judicial discretion
in allowing that evidence to be presented before a jury, it is important for
decision makers in the legal system to understand the potential prejudicial
effect that gang evidence might have on jurors. Although there is a robust
literature examining various extralegal factors that can affect juror decision
making, very little is known about how gang evidence might affect jurors’
perception of a defendant’s culpability.
The biasing effect of defendant characteristics on juror decision mak-
ing has been of particular interest to social science researchers in recent
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Examining Prejudicial Effect of Gang Evidence on Jurors 3
years. Studies have found support for the biasing effects of defendants’
race (Mitchell, Haw, Pfeifer, & Meissner, 2005), attractiveness (Abwender
& Hough, 2001), and even employment status (Reskin & Visher, 1986), par-
ticularly when the evidence against the defendant is lacking. There is good
reason to believe that a defendant’s gang membership status can also have
a biasing effect on jurors. Media reports of drive-by shootings, drug-related
crime, gang violence in schools, and the visibility of gang graffiti in major
cities heightens the general public’s perception of gang members as partic-
ularly problematic and a threat to community safety (Jackson & Rudman,
1993). Perceptions of disorder and community decline have been found to
increase the public’s fear of gangs (Lane & Meeker, 2005). This fear may lead
to juror bias against defendants who are said to be linked to gang activity.
There is also reason to believe that once a negative stereotype is acti-
vated, people often seek information that is consistent with that stereotype.
Frey (1986) refers to this as a confirmation bias. In the case of gangs, once
the jury is informed that the defendant is a member of a criminal street gang
and is informed that the gang is involved in violent crime against the com-
munity, the jurors may come to believe that the defendant is a danger to
society independent of the evidence offered. According to this model, once
this bias is instilled, the jurors may then filter the evidence presented through
the negative stereotype that has been activated, attending most closely to
information that confirms the established bias activated by the label “gang
member.”
Miethe and McCorkle (1997) argue that the label gang member invokes
an extremely potent stereotype that overrides most other traits possessed by
a given individual. Miethe and McCorkle employ the notion of master status
as articulated by Hughes (1945) to operationally define this very potent
form of stereotype. According to the master status concept, people have a
variety of status characteristics that shape their identity and influence others.
These characteristics manifest as stereotypes. Theoretically, the master status
overrides all other status characteristics possessed by a given individual and,
therefore, defines the person’s identity. As Miethe and McCorkle put it, “a
master status operates as the ultimate stereotype ...that guides dispositional
decisions even when other information may be pertinent” (1997, p. 410).
Miethe and McCorkle (1997) examined the relationship between gang
membership status and legal disposition in 370 criminal prosecutions in Las
Vegas, NV. These investigators found that the disposition of non-gang cases
was generally related to the specific characteristics of the offense or the
offender. However, according to their analyses, in gang cases, the offender
was generally judged on the gang nature of the offense, independent of
other aspects of the offense and offender. Based on these data, Miethe and
McCorkle argue that gang membership provides a master status stereotype.
We could find only one published study that has examined the bias-
ing effect of gang membership on perceptions of criminality. Dukes and
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4M. L. Eisen et al.
Valentine (1998) presented vignettes describing a criminal act to high school
students, college students, and adult church members. Half of the partic-
ipants read a vignette of a graffiti offense (malicious mischief) while the
others read a vignette where the perpetrator menaced their victim with a
handgun (felony menacing). The perpetrator was either a member of a gang
or a soccer team. Dukes and Valentine found that for the graffiti condition,
participants were more likely to report the gang member to the police and
were also more inclined to support jail sentences for the gang member when
compared to the soccer player. However, in the threatening with a weapon
condition, no effect for gang versus soccer team membership was revealed
for likeliness to report the crime or inclination to support jail sentences for
the offense. These findings show some bias against gang members relative
to soccer team members in the form of mock witnesses’ willingness to report
minor crimes and support prosecution for them. However, this study did not
directly address the question of how gang status might influence juror’s deci-
sions of guilt versus innocence. Also, this study examined the perceptions of
mock witnesses to a crime rather than using a mock juror scenario. In fact,
no studies have directly examined potential juror bias against individuals
who belong to, or are associated with street gangs.
RESEARCH QUESTION
The present study examined the effect of a defendant’s gang association
and/or membership on mock juror verdicts. Jurors were presented with a
videotaped trial that included opening and closing arguments by the defense
and prosecution together with direct and cross-examination of the investi-
gating officer and the victim/eyewitness. Gang association was manipulated
by having the defendant described as either having been seen hanging out
with gang members on the night of the incident (gang affiliate) or being
a documented gang member with a gang tattoo (hardcore gang member).
In the control condition, no mention of gangs was made during the trial.
It was hypothesized that any mention of gang association would lead to
an increase in guilty verdicts. Further, it was predicted that guilty verdicts
would be greater in the hardcore gang condition, compared to the gang
affiliate condition.
METHOD
Participants
Participants were 315 undergraduate psychology students (78 males,
237 females) from a large state university located in east Los Angeles, CA.
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Examining Prejudicial Effect of Gang Evidence on Jurors 5
The students all participated in the study voluntarily and were recruited
based on their enrollment in various undergraduate psychology classes.
The participants ranged in age from 18 to 52 (M=24.37, standard
deviation [SD]=5.74). The participants varied in ethnicity, with 50.3% iden-
tifying themselves as Latino, 17.6% Pacific-rim Asian, 14.2% Anglo, 6.9%
African American, and 6.0% describing themselves as something other than
the aforementioned ethnicities. This distribution closely reflects the ethnic
representation of the university and the surrounding geographic area.
Materials and Procedure
Participants watched a 35-minute video of a condensed, simulated trial.
As part of the consent process, prior to viewing the video, participants were
told that they would see a video tape of a condensed trial where the defen-
dant was accused of stabbing a man in a bar fight. The participants were
also informed that they would see opening and closing arguments from the
prosecution and defense, along with testimony from the investigating offi-
cer and the eyewitness (who was also the victim in this case). Further, the
participants read the following instructions:
We would like you to act as a juror in this trial. Please watch the trial
carefully and consider the evidence as introduced. You may take your
own notes if you like. At the end of the tape you will be given a brief
questionnaire, asking for your verdict (guilty or innocent). You will also
be asked to tell us about what evidence persuaded you to vote guilty or
innocent. Please be as conscientious as you can in watching the video
and making your decision. We ask that you only take part in this study
if you take this seriously and put in your best effort as a juror.
Finally, the participants were informed that their responses were
entirely anonymous and that they could decide not to participate or with-
draw from the study at any time without loss of any credit that they would
otherwise be entitled to. The participants were then shown the video.
After the presentation of the trial video, participants were given a brief
questionnaire asking for their age, gender, and ethnicity. Prior to asking
about verdict or certainty, participants were provided with the following
instructions:
In answering the following questions, please make sure to judge this
person in the same way you would judge any defendant if you were to
serve as a juror in an actual case. Also, assume that the defendant lives
in your general community.
The participants were then asked, “Based on the trial you saw, would
you find the defendant guilty of stabbing the victim in this case?” They were
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6M. L. Eisen et al.
also asked to rate the certainty of their verdict on a scale of 0 to 100 and
to note what elements of the trial were important in making their decisions.
Finally, participants were asked whether they had any prior knowledge of
this study from discussion with other students. If they reported having prior
knowledge of the study, their data were dropped from the sample. Four
students were dropped for this reason. Participants were also asked what
the defendant was charged with. After completing the questionnaire, the
participants were debriefed as a group.
Trial Video
A 35-minute video-taped simulated trial was used. The prosecutor, defense
attorney, and investigating officer were all played by experienced trial attor-
neys. The victim was played by a professional actor. This simulated trial
contained the following elements: (1) opening arguments by the prosecution
and defense counsel; (2) direct and cross-examination of the investigat-
ing officer; (3) direct and cross-examination of the victim/witness; and
(4) closing arguments by the prosecution and defense.
The defendant was charged with attempted murder. In the video, the
victim testified that he had gotten into a brief argument in a crowded bar
with a man who pulled out a knife and stabbed him. The victim described
the assailant as a Hispanic male in his twenties who was average height
and weight, wearing a white T-shirt, and had a tattoo on his left upper arm.
No specific description of the tattoo was given, and no other details were
provided about the perpetrator’s appearance. The victim testified that he had
been drinking at the time but denied having more than one drink before the
incident occurred. The victim/witness testified on cross-examination that
there were likely dozens of Hispanic men at the bar that night, and the
police officer testified that he questioned several Hispanic men who were
seen in the bar that night who fit the general description provided by the
victim/witness. The police officer testified that he suspected the defendant
because when he interviewed this man he seemed nervous. In addition, the
suspect initially denied being at the bar on the night in question but then
admittedthathewasinfactthere.Healsohadatattooonhisleftupperarm.
The officer testified that he obtained a picture of the suspect and put him
in a six-pack photo array. The officer and the victim/witness both testified
that the victim/witness picked the defendant’s picture from the photo array,
thus identifying him as the assailant. Specifically, the officer testified that the
victim/witness picked the defendant’s picture from the group and noted that
he “looked like” the man who stabbed him.
The simulated trial tape was edited to make three different versions:
In the no-gang condition, no mention of gangs was made. In this condi-
tion, the defendant had a tattoo on his upper left arm, consistent with the
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Examining Prejudicial Effect of Gang Evidence on Jurors 7
witnesses report, but it was not described as a gang tattoo. In the gang
affiliate condition, the officer testified that other witnesses at the scene had
seen the defendant at the bar that night hanging out with known mem-
bers of a local violent street gang known as Los Mortos. The prosecutor
also reiterated this point in his closing argument. However, it was never
specifically alleged that the defendant was actually a gang member. In this
condition, the defendant had a tattoo on his upper left arm, consistent with
the witness’s report, but it was not described as a gang tattoo (same as in
the no-gang condition). In the hardcore gang condition, the investigating
officer testified that the defendant was a known member of a street gang
as evidenced by field identification cards made by patrol officers who have
seen him with other known members of the Los Mortos street gang in the
past. Also, as in the other two conditions, the defendant had a tattoo on his
upper left arm. The witness could not provide any detail about the tattoo in
any of the three conditions. However, in the gang condition, the suspect’s
tattoo was described by the officer as a gang tattoo, confirming his mem-
bership in Los Mortos. These facts were also reiterated by the prosecutor
during his closing argument. Beyond these stated differences, all condi-
tions were identical, and the offense was not specifically charged as a gang
crime.
RESULTS
A binary logistic regression was conducted with verdict as the dependent
variable and trial condition (hardcore gang, gang affiliate, no-gang control),
gender, ethnicity, and age as predictors. For the first analysis, gang mem-
bership was coded as hardcore gang versus no gang. Also, since nearly
half of our participants were Latino and the defendant was Latino, ethnic-
ity was coded as Latino versus non-Latino. The Chi-square test for change
in likelihood due to the model was significant, χ2(4, N=311) =11.01,
p=.03. Based on the Wald test of significance, results of this analysis
showed that both of the gang conditions were significant predictors of ver-
dict, whereas gender (Table 1) and ethnicity (Table 2) were not related to
verdict. Specifically, 43.8% of participants in the no-gang condition found
the defendant guilty, compared to 59.2% in the gang affiliate condition
and 62.5% in the hardcore gang condition. To further examine the rela-
tionship between gang affiliation and verdict, an additional 2 (Verdict) ×2
(Gang Membership) Chi-square test of independence was conducted with
gang association coded as a two-level dummy variable (gang affiliate versus
hardcore gang membership). Fisher’s exact test results showed no signif-
icant difference between guilty verdicts in the two gang conditions χ2(1,
N=210) =.67, ns.
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8M. L. Eisen et al.
TABLE 1 Guilty Verdicts by Condition and Gender
No Gang Gang Affiliate Hardcore Gang Total
n=105 n=106 n=104 N=315
%# %#%#%#
Females 48.1% 37 57% 45 83% 54 57.4% 136
Males 32.1% 9 64.6% 17 50% 11 48.7% 37
Total 43.8% 46 59.2% 62 62.5% 65 55.3% 173
TABLE 2 Guilty Verdicts by Condition and Ethnicity
No Gang Gang Affiliate Hardcore Gang
n=105 n=106 n=104
%#%#%#
Latinos (n=167) 46.3% 25 58.9% 33 63.2% 36
Anglo (n=45) 50% 7 58.8% 10 63.3% 9
Asian (n=58) 26.1% 6 64.3% 9 76.3% 16
African American (n=23) 25% 1 80% 8 44% 4
Total(N=315) 43.8% 46 59.2% 63 62.5% 65
An additional 22 participants identified themselves as “other.”
Verdict Confidence
A2×3 between-subjects analysis of variance was conducted to examine
the effect of verdict (guilty versus not guilty) and trial condition (hardcore
gang, gang affiliate, no-gang control) on verdict confidence. A significant
main effect for verdict was revealed, as participants across the three trial
conditions all expressed significantly more confidence in their guilty ver-
dicts, M=78.19, SD =17.45, than not guilty votes, M=68.06, SD =
19.92, F(1, 309) =22.36, p<.001 (see Table 3 for means). However,
no effect for trial condition was found, F(2, 309) =1.49. Also, the results
of the interaction between verdict and trial condition were not significant,
F(2, 309) =.04.
TABLE 3 Confidence in Verdict by Condition
No Gang Gang Affiliate Hardcore Gang
n=105 n=106 n=104
MSD M SD M SD
Guilty 78.26% 17.30 80.79% 16.20 75.48% 18.61
Not guilty 68.31% 20.10 69.76% 19.04 65.90% 20.87
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Examining Prejudicial Effect of Gang Evidence on Jurors 9
Qualitative Data
Participants were asked to note which elements of the trial were important
in reaching their verdict. A representative sample of the participants’ writ-
ten comments was examined. After examining this sample of responses, the
investigators met together to create a set of objective guidelines for the clas-
sification of responses into discrete categories for guilty verdicts (e.g., guilty
because of the tattoo, the identification, or gang membership) and not-guilty
verdicts (e.g., not guilty because of lack of evidence or bad identification).
Once these decisions were made, two groups of coders classified all of the
responses provided. There was 100% agreement between the coders on the
classification of comments into the broad groupings. Twenty-seven of the
104 participants in the hardcore gang condition reported that they found the
defendant guilty because of either his tattoo (described in court as a gang
tattoo) or his gang membership. That constitutes 42% of the 65 participants
in the hardcore gang condition who found the defendant guilty. Fourteen of
the 63 participants in the gang affiliate condition who found the defendant
to be guilty (22%) also reported that they were influenced by his affiliation
with the gang. In the no-gang condition, most participants who found the
defendant guilty either named his tattoo or the victim’s identification as their
reason for voting guilty.
DISCUSSION
This study was designed to examine the potential biasing effects of gang
association on mock juror verdicts. Specifically, we examined how men-
tioning a defendants’ gang affiliation or membership at trial can affect juror
verdicts.
As predicted, participants were more likely to find the defendant guilty
in the gang affiliate and hardcore gang conditions when compared to the no-
gang control condition. When gang affiliation was introduced, guilty verdicts
increased significantly. In this case, merely mentioning that the defendant
was seen hanging around known gang members on the night in question
was enough to boost guilty verdicts from 43.8% to 59.2%, and then mention-
ing that the defendant was a member of a gang increased guilty verdicts to
62.5%. These data support the notion proposed by other theorists that gang
affiliation represents a powerful stereotype in criminal cases that can bias a
juror’s judgment against the defendant in and of itself (Miethe & McCorkle,
1997; Zatz, 1985).
Gordon, Bindrim, McNicholas, and Waiden (1988) found that matching
a crime to a stereotype has an enhanced biasing effect. It is possible that
informing jurors that the defendant was a young Latino man with tattoos
who hangs out with known gang members may have activated a stereotype
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10 M. L. Eisen et al.
of an individual who is more likely to be engaged in criminal activity and act
out violently. This might account for why just mentioning that the tattooed
Hispanic defendant was seen hanging out with gang members on the night
in question had a significant effect on guilty verdicts.
It is also possible that mentioning the defendant’s gang association
could have activated a confirmation bias that affected how the mock jurors
attended to and/or weighed the evidence. A confirmation bias occurs when
people seek information that supports a preconceived belief (e.g., Frey,
1986). In this case, once the stereotype of the gang member or affiliate had
been established, participants may have selectively attended, or given more
weight, to evidence that confirmed the culpability of the bad actor.
It is well understood that stereotypes are most likely to influence behav-
ior when evidence is ambiguous (Pfeifer & Ogloff, 1991). In this case, the
evidence was designed to be weak and equivocal. Thus, circumstances were
ripe for the maximum effect of stereotype induction on the participants’
performance.
Contrary to our prediction, there was no significant difference in guilty
verdicts when comparing the two gang-related trial conditions. In the gang
affiliate condition, the defendant was merely seen hanging out with known
gang members on the night in question whereas, in the hardcore gang
condition, the defendant was definitively identified as a known gang mem-
ber by virtue of his gang tattoo and police record. It is possible that the
manipulation of gang association versus hardcore membership was not pow-
erful enough to affect the participants’ verdicts. Some participants may have
assumed that based on the officer’s testimony that the defendant was seen
hanging out with gang members on the night in question at the bar implied
that he was likely to be a gang member himself (by virtue of his association
with other known gang members). If this interpretation of the data is correct,
any mention of a defendant’s association with individuals who are linked to
gang activity could have a powerful prejudicial effect when presented to a
jury. The practical implications of this finding are clearly relevant to bench
officers in trial courts who must weigh the probative versus prejudicial value
of all evidence that comes before the jury.
It is also possible that admitted hardcore gang members were judged
differently than defendants who were merely associated with gang members,
but we just could not detect the difference in this study. It is important to
note that the defendant was initially implicated through weak circumstantial
evidence: presence at the bar on the night of the crime and being a Hispanic
male of average height and weight with a tattoo on his upper arm. In addi-
tion, the sole eyewitness was drinking alcohol at a bar. Thus, considering
the weak evidence, a ceiling effect in guilty verdicts may have prevented us
from detecting potential significant increases in guilty verdicts from the gang
affiliate to the hardcore gang conditions.
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Examining Prejudicial Effect of Gang Evidence on Jurors 11
Certainty and Verdict
Participants who found the defendant to be guilty were significantly more
certain about their verdict than those who found him not guilty. This was
true in the no-gang group and in the gang affiliate and hardcore gang con-
ditions. This finding was not predicted but can potentially be explained by
cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957). Previous work has found that
when mock jurors vote guilty in cases where the evidence is equivocal,
they will sometimes convince themselves that they made the right decision
by exaggerating the seriousness of the offence (Rodriguez & Berry, 2009).
In this case, it is possible that those participants who decided to convict
despite equivocal evidence of guilt committed themselves more stridently
to their decision to reconcile dissonance evoked by convicting a man in an
uncertain situation.
Why More Guilty Verdicts?
It is not clear from these data whether the mock jurors assumed that a
defendant who was either associated with gangs or a gang member was
more likely to be guilty of the crime in question. All we really know is
that the mock jurors were more likely to vote guilty when gang status was
introduced. It is important to note that our mock jurors were instructed to
assume that the defendant lives in their own community. It has been well
documented that gang members are often feared members of a community
and that most law-abiding citizens would prefer to rid their community of
gang members (Lane, 2002; Lane & Meeker, 2005). Thus, a plausible hypoth-
esis to explain our findings is that our mock jurors simply lowered the bar in
considering the prosecution’s argument to prove guilt. When the defendant
is associated with a gang, jurors might consider the fact that if they were
wrong and if the defendant were actually innocent of this particular offense,
they are still voting to lock up a defendant who poses a danger to society
by virtue of his gang status; therefore, imprisonment could ultimately result
in protection of the community in the long run.
It is already well understood in the court system that mentioning
gang involvement at trial can bias jurors against defendants (e.g., People
v. Martinez, 2008). In the current study, all we did was mention that the
defendant was seen hanging around with gang members, and this appeared
to be enough to drive guilty verdicts up significantly. In actual gang cases,
the jury often hears extended testimony from a gang expert explaining the
violent criminal nature of street gangs, inferring that since the defendant is
a known and acknowledged member of this group, he is a dangerous per-
son from whom jurors need to be protected. It is within the discretion of
the court to apply a gang enhancement to a crime and allow gang experts
to testify, but courts should consider the biasing effect gang evidence may
have on jurors to render a guilty verdict.
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12 M. L. Eisen et al.
Limitations
Several limitations to this study should be noted. First, it is important to
note that we did not have our mock jurors deliberate in panels. Such
deliberations would likely have revealed more about the reasoning of the
participants. Moreover, a manipulation check was not used. This method
was used because we did not want to draw further attention to the gang
issue for fear of inducing further bias or provoking hypothesis guessing.
In future studies, a manipulation check could be done after the verdict is
rendered without affecting the data. Additionally, we did not include expert
testimony from a gang expert. However, the fact that we saw the effect of
gang evidence without such testimony was of interest in and of itself. It can
be argued that gang expert testimony may have been even more biasing.
Also, in this case, the evidence was equivocal, but the defendant was not
obviously innocent. Guilty verdicts among participants in the no-gang con-
trol group were still above 40%. In the future, it would be useful to see
whether this effect is evident in a case where reasonable doubt is clearly
established to see how often mock jurors disregard clear reasonable doubt
to convict a member of a violent street gang. In addition, the participants in
our study were predominantly Latino undergraduate students from East Los
Angeles. It is possible that these students differ from other potential jurors
in regard to their attitudes toward both the police and gang members.
In summary, the results of this study showed that mentioning gang sta-
tus in our simulated trial led to an increase in guilty verdicts among the
mock jurors in our sample. Importantly, the mere mention of the defen-
dant having been seen hanging out with known gang members on the night
of the incident was enough to boost guilty verdicts from 43.8% to 59.2%.
These findings underscore the importance of carefully weighing the poten-
tially prejudicial nature of introducing such information to jurors against the
probative value of the gang evidence.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We thank Amber Ritter, Kristen Adams, Elissa Waltz, and Winney Borzag
for their assistance in collecting and entering these data and for comments
provided in the preparation of this article.
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