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Alibis: To Believe or Not to Believe6

main effects for character and alibi as well as a significant alibi by character interaction.  The results also indicated that the participants saw the “good” character as being more moral than the “bad” character (Hanson and Zacharias, 2005).

One of the main findings of the paper was that alibis do seem to have an effect on the verdict outcome in a trial.  Another interesting point from this study is that the people who read the alibi of being home alone watching a movie found the defendant guilty more times than those who read the Barnes and Noble or adult bookstore conditions.  However, there was no difference between the two stores.  The rate of innocent/guilty was about the same regardless of the fact that they were at an adult bookstore or a Barnes and Noble.  They also found no significant alibi by character interaction, so it would appear that the character of the defendant did not play a role in the verdict outcome (Hanson and Zacharias, 2005).

The fact that character and the embarrassment level of the study did not have an effect on the alibi should be studied more in depth.  It is surprising that admitting you were at an adult bookstore elicits the same reaction as saying you were at Barnes and Noble.  Also, it would seem that if a person of good character confessed something like that, the chances are that they are probably not lying, which in essence should make the alibi a lot more believable.  This is definitely a good area for further research.  

Next fall I plan on doing some research of my own into this area of alibi believability and effectiveness.  Originally, I had thought of investigating this idea of good character/bad character and the level of embarrassment of their alibi and how that affects the juror verdict.  However, upon some discussion I feel that I may switch gears a little bit and research more into the defendant’s character and physical appearance and how attractiveness/race can affect the juror’s perception of the alibi.   

Do jurors make judgments according to personal attributes?  Personal attributes are considered to be extralegal factors or legally irrelevant considerations.  Many studies have

been performed to determine whether or not personal attributes really do improperly influence juror’s perceptions (Feingold and Mazzella, 1994).  Feingold and Mazzella took these studies and performed a meta-analysis to see whether or not these characteristics did affect juror’s perceptions and judgments.  It was hypothesized that if defendants were physically unattractive, black, of low socioeconomic status, and male and if the victim was physically attractive, white, of high SES and female, the defendant would be at a disadvantage.  Eighty total studies were looked at.  25 of those 80 looked at physical attractiveness, 29 looked at race, 17 examined SES, and 21 looked at possible gender effects.

The results showed that mock jurors were less likely to find physically attractive defendants guilty and recommend a lesser punishment than they would if the defendant were unattractive, although the effect was small.  However, physically attractive defendants received a greater punishment than unattractive defendants if the crime was negligent homicide and received the same punishment if the crime was swindling.  Race produced no noticeable effects for the crimes of robbery, assault, or rape.  Jurors, however, recommended stronger punishments for blacks than whites for negligent homicide, and gave whites a stronger punishment than blacks for fraud.  Gender produced no effect; however, jurors were often more punitive to male defendants than to female defendants, with female defendants also being treated more leniently for theft crimes.  The gender of the victim had more of an effect than the defendant, with defendants more likely to be found guilty and punished more harshly when the victim was a female compared to male (Feingold and Mazzella, 1994).

With their general hypotheses about physical attractiveness, race, and gender in mind I will add in my twist with alibis.  My participants will be General Psychology students from Winona State University who will be compensated by extra credit.  The participants will read a summary of a trial transcript that would include a picture of the defendant and a description of what the defendant

WSU Psychology Student Journal, Issue ASarah Shurbert

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