The Attractiveness of the Victims and Defendants of a Crime as Contributing Factors to the Severity of the Penalties Assigned by Simulated Jurors




Moore, L. Jane

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Ideally, when a jury is deciding upon the guilt or innocence of a defendant, the facts pertaining to the crime are the sole determinants of the verdict reached. There is reason to believe, however, that this is not always the case. A substantial body of literature supports the idea that the impression jurors form about both the victim and the defendant seems to influence the verdict the jury reaches (Kaplan and Kemmerick, 1976; Landy and Aronson, 1969; Miller, 1970; Sfran, 1976; Sigall and Ostrove, 1975; Perrin, 1921; Weld and Danzig, I960; Weld and Roff, 1938; Kalven and Zeisel, 1966; Triandis, et al, 1966). In turn, these impressions that develop are possibly determined by the social characteristics and attitudes that the jurors consider desirable or attractive. The main intent of this study is to further examine the relationship between the personal and social characteristics of both the victim and the defendant of a crime and the severity of the penalty that is assigned. The hypotheses of the study were "Crimes committed against attractive victims are more severely punished than crimes committed against unattractive victims," and "Crimes committed by attractive defendants are less severely punished than are crimes committed by unattractive defendants." An experiment was conducted using four sets of questionnaires, each of which described four murder cases. The facts of the cases were identical on all of the four questionnaires; however, the characteristics of the victims and defendants were varied. Characteristics used to describe the victims and defendants were sex, ethnicity, age, family affiliation and occupation. Information about the personality and disposition of the individuals were also described. After reading the facts of the case and the description of the parties involved, the respondents were ashed to choose one of four possible penalties that they felt was the most appropriate for the case described. The major findings of the study indicate that when the defendant of a crime is attractive, the penalties the jurors assign are more lenient than when the defendant is unattractive. This difference is statistically significant. People assign slightly harsher penalties for defendants when the victim is attractive than when the victim is unattractive. This difference, however, is not statistically significant. There does not appear to be an interaction effect between the characteristics of the victim and defendant, with regards to the severity of the penalty assigned for different combinations of attractive and unattractive victims and defendants. Generally speaking, people choose harsher penalties than are currently possible according to the Texas Penal Code. If the findings of this study were replicated gathering information from the respondents as to why they chose the sentences that they did, the findings could have important implications for our legal system.



victims of crimes, criminals, criminal justice, public opinion


Moore, L. J. (1979). The attractiveness of the victims and defendants of a crime as contributing factors to the severity of the penalties assigned by simulated jurors (Unpublished thesis). Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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