Theory and Perceptions of Criminal Responsibility by Mock Jurors
Brenna M. Henson
criminal sentences imposed by mock jurors were examined in order to determine if
Locus of Control was an influence on perceived responsibility and therefore,
severity of punishment. The
participant sample consisted of 94 students from a private, Midwestern, liberal
arts college. Participants were
given a two-part survey. Part one
of the survey contained eight crime scenarios for which participants were asked
to determine appropriate punishment. In
part two of the survey, Locus of Control inclination is determined using the
Adult Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Control Scale Items.
Findings did not support the researcher’s hypothesis by a significance
level of p =.110. Further research
would be needed in order to determine if consideration should be given to Locus
of Control inclination within the jury selection process.
the emergence of Psychology as a discipline, great attention has been given to
the advantages that may arise from the application of psychological concepts
within the legal system. Receiving increasing attention is the practice of applying
social science methods to the American jury selection process in both civil and
criminal trials (Hastie, Penrod, & Pennington, 1983).
Countless studies have been conducted in an effort to examine the
influence of personality, attitude, demographic characteristics and even
physicality to jury verdicts and severity of sentencing.
The current research has lent itself to controversy with researchers
conflicted over the existence of systematic and applicable results which may be
resolved only by the discovery of a precise methodological approach to jury
selection (Patterson, 1986).
Perception of Guilt
psychological studies have been conducted in order to examine the influence of
personal characteristics such as: race, age, attractiveness, etc. upon
the verdicts of both actual and mock jurors.
It has been found that sentences imposed by juries are significantly
related to defendant ethnicity and that sentences are further influenced by jury
ethnic composition in relation to the ethnicity of the defendant (Daudistel,
Hosch, Holmes, & Graves, 1999). Smith & Hed (1979) concluded older defendants are judged
more harshly than young defendants and attractive people are judged less harshly
than unattractive people. In a more
recent study, researchers found speech accommodation to be significantly
correlated with jurors attribution of guilt (Dixon & Tredoux, 1994).
the examination of mock jury trials and experiments, researchers have begun to
identify which trial participant (e.g. defendant, attorney) characteristics have
the greatest influence on a juror’s verdict as well as which evidence is most
persuasive to a jury. However,
psychologists have recently begun to examine with greater frequency the
personality characteristics possessed by jurors which serve to influence
decisions regarding both guilt and severity of punishment.
data are now available for approaching criminal and delinquent acts from a
cognitive standpoint for both the offender and those in a position of judgement.
Research suggests there may be a variety of factors behind any criminal
offense and just as many behind attributions of guilt.
According to Debuyst (1985), all crimes involve an attribution process,
as well as all verdicts.
theory was developed over time from the theories of Fritz Heider, Edward Jones,
Keith Davis, and Harold Kelley, all of whom were social psychologists.
It has been viewed among psychologists as relevant to the study of person
perception , event perception , attitude change, the acquisition of
self-knowledge, therapeutic interventions, and much more (Ross & Fletcher,
1986). The concept of attributional
style was discussed by Abramson, Seligman, &
Teasdale (1978) in the reformulated model of learned helplessness and is
defined as “the habitual way in which people explain positive or negative
events in their lives”. This concept has been further applied to the idea that an
individuals’ personal attributional style will be imposed upon their
perception of the events occurring in the lives of others.
theory arranges three types of attributions in a hierarchical order from cause
to responsibility to blame (Calhoun & Townsley, 1991).
Blame presupposes responsibility, and responsibility presupposes cause.
However, cause does not necessarily lead to responsibility or
responsibility to blame. Attributions
of cause are merely explanations given for the occurrence of an event. Attributions of responsibility require examination of an
individual’s behavior in a social context, such as the commission of a crime
against another person. Responsibility
attributions are judgements that presuppose a causal attribution and concern an
individual’s accountability or answerability for some event.
Attributions of blame presuppose both a causal attribution and an
attribution of accountability and allow for the perception of fault on the part
of an individual (Bradbury & Fincham, 1990).
Whether or not this chain of presuppositions is complete determines
one’s ability to find fault within themselves or others.
of Control is one of the most researched constructs in the field of personality
(Rotter, 1990). Since the
mid-1960’s, there have been numerous studies concerning locus of control and
interest in the construct and its’ application continues to grow.
The construct has proven to lend itself to a wide variety of application
in both interpersonal phenomena such as seeking information and taking political
action and intrapsychic phenomena such as; defense externality and attribution
with an internal locus of control believe they control the events and therefore
the consequences in their lives. In
contrast, people who possess an external locus of control believe that outside
events are the driving force in their lives.
Consequently, an internal person sees his/herself as responsible for
their actions and deserving of appropriate punishment.
While an external person finds blame in sources outside his/herself.
Ideally, both the internal and the external person will attribute this
same level of responsibility to others. Previous
research has indicated internal-external locus of control inclination in trial
judges to be an effective predictor as to the severity of dispensed criminal
sentences (Phares & Wilson, 1972). It
is, therefore, hypothesized that mock jurors who possess an internal locus of
control will dispense harsher criminal sentences than will jurors who possess an
external locus of control. Method
sample population of 94 students at a private Midwestern college was surveyed.
Survey demographics revealed the population included sixty-five female
students and twenty-eight male students with an age range from eighteen to
thirty-nine years (M = 19.99). Participants were also asked to report class rank (Freshman N
= 22, Sophomore N = 38, Junior N = 14, Senior N = 14, Missing N = 6) and
residency status ( On Campus N = 14, Off Campus N = 57, With Parents N = 17,
Missing N = 6). All students were
advised that their participation in the study was on a voluntary basis.
Volunteers were treated in accordance with the “Ethical Principles of
Psychologists and Code of Conduct” (American Psychological Association, 1992).
HCP Inventory, a two part, self-report survey, was administered to the study
participants. Part one of the
survey consisted of eight felony crime scenarios with Illinois Criminal Code
sentencing options represented on a 1 to 5 Likert-type scale (1 = most lenient
possible punishment, 5 = most severe possible punishment).
Mental Illness (Male)
A 26 year old man is charged with Aggravated Battery of a Senior Citizen. Witnesses claim the man suddenly turned and brutally attacked an elderly pedestrian on the street with the elderly man’s cane. The defendant told police the elderly man was a disguised KGB agent who had been following him for months. A court appointed psychologist has diagnosed the young man as a Paranoid Schizophrenic, however the psychologist believes the man is able to distinguish right from wrong.
2 yrs Probation Mental 3 yrs 4-6 yrs 7 yrs
& Counseling Institution Imprisonment Imprisonment Imprisonment
CPS #2- Sexual Assault (Female)
A 25 year old female is charged with Criminal Sexual Assault. The victim is a 16 year old male whose parents pressed charges after discovering their son had been involved in a sexual relationship with the woman for two years. Both the defendant and the victim claim they are in love and have done nothing wrong.
2 yrs Probation
4 yrs Probation
& Counseling Imprisonment Imprisonment Imprisonment
CPS #3- Battered Wife Syndrome
A 57 year old woman is charged with the 2nd Degree Murder of her 60 year old husband. The man was asleep in their bed around 11pm when his wife stood over him and fired 3 shots into his head. She called 9-1-1 and admitted she had just killed her husband. There had been multiple domestic disturbance calls to the couple’s home over their 39 year marriage. Doctors confirmed the woman had sustained massive facial trauma and 2 broken ribs the morning of the shooting.
1 2 3 4 5
Not Guilty 4 yrs Probation 4 yrs 10 yrs 15 yrs
Self-Defense/ & Counseling Imprisonment Imprisonment Imprisonment
CPS #4- Death Penalty
A 19 year old male is charged with the Armed Robbery of a convenience store as well as 2nd Degree Murder in the shooting death of the store clerk. He has an extensive criminal history. Store surveillance tapes suggest the defendant became angered because there was only $57 in the cash register which led to the shooting.
1 2 3 4 5
12 yrs 20 yrs 30 yrs Natural Life Death
Imprisonment Imprisonment Imprisonment Imprisonment Penalty
CPS #5- Mental Illness (Female)
A 43 year old female is charged with Retail Theft. She is the owner of a successful ladies boutique and financially well-off. While shopping in a mall jewelry store, she distracted the clerk and slipped a $1200.00 diamond ring into her purse. A court appointed psychologist suggests the woman suffers from kleptomania, which makes her unable to control her impulses to steal.
12 mo. Probation 30 mo. Probation 2 yrs 3-4 yrs 5 yrs
& Counseling Imprisonment Imprisonment Imprisonment
A 41 year old male prison inmate is charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in the death of a fellow inmate. The defendant claims to have been attacked by the second inmate while showering in what appears to be an attempted sexual assault. A fight ensued and the defendant struck his attackers head on the concrete shower floor resulting in his death.
Not Guilty Anger Management 2 yrs Additional 3-4 yrs Additional 5 yrs Additional
Self-Defense Classes Imprisonment Imprisonment Imprisonment
CPS #7- Drunk Driver (Female)
A 22 year old female is charged with Reckless Homicide resulting from a drunk driving accident. After leaving a New Year's Eve party with a friend, the woman lost control of her car striking a telephone pole. Her 24 year old male passenger was killed instantly. The woman has no prior drunk driving offenses.
2 yrs Probation
4 yrs Probation
& DUI Classes
CPS #8- Under Duress (Male)
A man is charged with Armed Robbery. The 38 year old husband and father of 4 robbed a local bank at gun point. He had been laid off from his job for 6 months and had received notice the day before the robbery that the bank intended to foreclose on his home. No one was injured during the crime and the weapon used was actually his son’s toy gun.
5 yrs Probation 5 yrs 10-15 yrs 15-20 yrs 25 yrs
two of the survey administered the Adult Norwicky-Strickland Internal-External
Control Scale Items, consisting of forty statements recording Yes/No responses
(1 = Yes, 2 = No). Participant
total scores for this section were represented in a range of 58.00 to 78.00 with
58.00 being the least controlled by external factors and 78.00 being most
controlled by external factors.
and Punishment Scenario Responses
the frequencies reported by the ninety-four survey participants on a 1 to 5
scale, the most popular sentencing option for each Crime and Punishment Scenario
(CPS) was determined as follows; CPS
1- Mental Illness (Male) 44.7% of the population chose the Mental Institution
option, CPS 2- Sexual Assault (Female) 57.4%
of the population chose the 4 years Probation and Counseling option, CPS 3-
Battered Wife Syndrome 38.3% of the population chose the 4 years Probation and
Counseling option, CPS 4- Death
penalty 34% of the population chose the Natural Life Imprisonment option, CPS 5-
Mental Illness (Female) 71.3% of the population chose the 30 months Probation
and Counseling option, CPS 6- Self-Defense 39.4% of the population chose the Not
Guilty/Self-Defense option, CPS 7- Drunk Driving (Female) 44.7% of the
population chose the 4 years Probation and Counseling option, CPS 8- Under
Duress 56.4% of the population chose the 5 years Probation and Fine option.
CPS scores had a possible range of 8.00 to 40.00 and an actual range of 12.00 to
of Control Scale Responses
participants were scored based upon their Yes or No responses to the forty items
contained in part two of the survey (1 = Yes, 2 = No), resulting in their Locus
of Control Score. The study LOC score had a possible range of 40.00 (least
influenced by external factors) to 80.00 (most influenced by external factors)
and an actual range of 58.00 to 78.00. The
fiftieth percentile was located at 69.50 determining for the purpose of this
study that participants with LOC scores of 69.00 and below would be identified
as “Internal” and participants scoring 70.00 or higher would be identified
further examination of the data it was found that the largest majority of the
study population was contained in the two midrange LOC scale scores of 69.00 and
70.00 (13% of the population = 69.00, 11% of the population = 70.00).
The most Internal LOC score of 58.00 was represented by only 1% of the
study population and the most External LOC score of 78.00 was represented by
only 2% of the study population.
one participant scoring among the six most internally controlled also possess
one of the six highest CPS scores (see Table 1).
principle hypothesis for this study was tested using a Pearson’s Correlation
Coefficient; Jurors who possess an internal locus of control will impose maximum
sentences with greater frequency than jurors who possess an external locus of
control (r = -.169, p = .110). A correlation coefficient of -.169 suggests that
severity of punishment increases as the number of external factors influencing
an individual decreases, although not to a significant level.
and Mental Illness
nine remaining study hypotheses were examined for significance using a t-test
yielding the following results; Jurors who possess an external locus of control
are more likely to accept an insanity plea from a male defendant than jurors who
possess an internal locus of control (1-5 scale; E-loc M = 2.11, I-loc
M = 2.07, p = .841).
Jurors who possess an external locus of control are more likely to accept
an insanity plea from a female defendant than jurors who possess an internal
locus of control (1-5 scale; E-loc
M = 2.31, I-loc M = 2.52, p
and Sexual Assault
Jurors who possess an internal locus of control are more likely to impose
the maximum sentence on a defendant charged with sexual assault than jurors who
possess an external locus of control (1-5 scale;
I-loc M = 1.91, E-loc M =
1.72, p = .207).
LOC and Battered Wife Syndrome
who possess an external locus of control are more likely to accept a defense of
Battered Wife Syndrome than jurors who possess an internal locus of control (1-5
scale; E-loc M = 2.41,
I-loc M = 2.15, p = .310).
LOC and Death Penalty
who possess an internal locus of control are more likely to impose the death
penalty than jurors who possess an external locus of control (1-5 scale;
I-loc M = 3.50, E-loc M =
3.33, p = .475).
A total of 17 participants chose the death penalty option for CPS 4, of
these, 8 = I-loc, 8 = E-loc, 1 = score missing, suggesting Locus of Control
inclination has little to do with dispensation of the death penalty in criminal
LOC and Self-Defense
who possess an external locus of control are more likely to accept a plea of
self defense than jurors who possess an internal locus of control (1-5 scale;
E-loc M = 1.87, I-loc M = 2.39, p
LOC and Drunk Driving
who possess an internal locus of control are more likely to impose maximum
sentence on a defendant convicted of a drunk driving related death than jurors
who possess an external locus of control (1-5 scale; I-loc M = 2.70, E-loc
M = 2.53, p = .478).
LOC and Crimes Committed Under Duress
who possess an internal locus of control are more likely to impose maximum
sentence on a defendant whose crime was committed under duress than jurors who
possess an external locus of control (1-5 scale;
I-loc M = 1.59, E-loc M =
1.47, p = .429).
Gender and Battered Wife Syndrome
Regardless of locus of control inclination, female jurors are more likely
to accept a defense of Battered Wife Syndrome than male jurors (1-5 scale;
Females M = 2.11, Males M =
2.79, p = .014).
experimenter’s hypothesis which predicted a gender difference would exist when
asked whether or not to accept a plea of Battered Wife Syndrome was supported by
the study data. This finding
differs from other existing research regarding gender differences in criminal
responsibility and sentencing. Steffensmeir
& Hebert (1999) found in their study of gender affect on the sentencing of
criminal defendants that females are somewhat harsher in their sentencing
decisions than are males.
of the present study suggest a relationship between Locus of Control inclination
and perceptions of guilt. A
significant difference was found with regard to the acceptance of a plea of
self-defense by internally controlled versus externally controlled participants.
While the other study hypotheses did not yield significant differences
they did display a trend in the data falling as predicted, suggesting further
investigation on the topic is warranted.
examination of the study results it was determined that the largest majority if
the study population was contained within the Midrange Locus of Control scores,
thus blurring the lines between Internal and External.
This may be due to the use of only college students in the study.
Many researchers agree that Locus of Control becomes more internal with
age and independence. College
students are in essence just beginning to exercise control over their own lives,
possibly making them an inappropriate sample for this type of research.
The current study was further limited by the availability of an evenly
distributed sample with regard to gender.
studies could incorporate a wider cross-section of the general population.
Also investigated should be the influence of educational level upon
sentencing decisions, as the average American jury would not be limited to
participants with access to a college education.
Previous research has indicated cross-cultural differences with regard to
criminal sentencing and perceived guilt and should be considered within the
context of Locus of Control as well.
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Internally and Externally Controlled Participants and their CPS Scores
* indicates highest CPS total of all participants
CPS scores had a possible range of 8 to 40 and an actual range of 12 to
27. Locus of Control scores had a
possible range of 40.00 (least externally controlled) to 80.00 (most externally
controlled) and an actual range of 58.00