Witness Appeal

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Attractiveness of a defendant - Castellow

Halo effect: Attractive people are more likely to be viewed positively on other aspects of behvaiour and personality. This is due the fact that the first traits we recognise in people influence how we interpret all later ones - often the first trait is appearance.

Research has shown this effect to also be applicable to courts, more attractive defendant are less likely to be found guilty and more likely to receive lighter sentences except in crimes where their attractiveness has been used in their favour. e.g. fraud.

Castellow's research illustrated how attractiveness can influence courtroom behaviour:

  • Investigated whether attractiveness (of a defendant or vic) influenced the verdict given.
  • P's read a case booklet detailing a fictional sexual assault.
  • P's asked to reach a verdict and rate the defendant and victim on 11 bipolar scales.
  • Found: attractive vic-unattractive def recieved guilty verdict 77% of the time. With unattractive vic-attractive def, guilty verdict given 41% of the time.
  • Physically attractive defendants/vic rated positively on variables too.
  • Appearance does indeed have a powerful effect on the jury, supported by other research. Defendents well advised to appear well dressed and groomed.
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Witness Confidence

Jurors tend to place much trust in a witness, even if the information they deliver is inaccurate. One of the most convincing features of a witness is their confidence in giving testimony. When the witness is confident, the jury have more confidence.

Penrod and Cutler examined several factors that jurors might consider when evaluatiing eye witness testimony, including witness confidence:

  • Mock trial where p's (experienced jurors and students) were shown a videotaped mock trial of a robbery.
  • Eye witness was key, she was either 80% or 100% confident that she identified the robber.
  • 9 other variables (at high or low level) were introduced to the film e.g. suspect in disguise etc, weapon clear or not etc. P's experienced high or low levels on a random basis.
  • P's asked to come to a guilty/not guilty verdict.
  • Witness confidence was the only statistically significant variable; 67% guilty for 100% confidence and 60% guilty for 80% confidence. Other variables virtually identical.
  • Further study revealed correlation between witness confidence and accuracy is very weak, so a confident witness doesn't mean a correct witness. Nevertheless, judges to tend to believe witnesses even when warned by a judge.
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Effect of shields and video on children giving evi

Giving evidence in court is naturally very stressful for children, so they can give evidence behind a shield or via videolink to reduce this stress. However, defence lawyers have argued that this could prejudice the defendant as it appears the child needs protection, suggecting that def is guilty.

  • Ross et al investigated the effect of use of shields and video on the verdict given and if the credibility of the witness was affected by their use.
  • Mock trial with 300 undergrads who were told it was a study of psych and law. Split into 3 groups and watched a 2 hr film of a sexual abuse case (based on real court transcript) .
  • 100 p's watched the version where the child gave evidence in an open court, 100 where child gave evidence behind a shield and 100 where child gave evidence via videolink.
  • Case detailed incident where father was accused of touching child in the bath - question was whether this was sexual or innocent. Mother, father 2x expert witnesses and child gave evidence. Judge read warning not to assume guilt from use of shield + videolink.
  • P's asked to reach a guilty/not guilty verdict and rate credibility of child witness.
  • No significant difference in verdicts given between conditions - though slightly more guilty verdicts in open court.
  • Concluded that use of protective measures does not disadvantage defendents - careful use.
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