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Juries in Rape Trials Swayed by Own Experiences

Juries in Rape Trials Swayed by Own Experiences

A study suggests that nearly half of all juries in rape cases decide on a guilty verdict before retiring to deliberate.

The University of Huddersfield research found that 43% of jurors made their decision in advance of any discussion with others on the jury. The study said that 13% of jurors did change their minds after retiring to the jury room.

Four hundred people were selected randomly for the study. Of these, 7.4% said they had been a victim of a sexual offence. Research analysis suggests that being a victim of a sexual offence has a significant influence on juror behaviour in rape cases. Individuals with personal experience of such a crime were found to be four times more likely to convict ahead of deliberation with fellow jurors.

Mock trials used legal professionals and actors

Dominic Willmott from the University of Huddersfield said:

“Past experiences play a huge role in shaping the person you are, and inevitably affects your view on society. As well as the importance of demographic features of the jurors, attitudes towards rape were found to be the strongest predictor of high numbers of not guilty verdicts.”

The study is believed to be the most comprehensive to date on rape cases using mock trials. Volunteers from the police service and the legal profession were used as well as actors to play the parts of defendants and victims. Psychological testing then took place to assess the views of randomly selected jurors before and after they had heard the evidence.

Education said to be an influence on verdicts

The research also highlighted that the educational background of jurors had substantive implications for verdicts in rape trials. Jurors who were less well educated were more likely to vote “not guilty” than those educated to graduate level or above because of what the researchers claimed was a heightened tendency to hold more “sexually aggressive” attitudes.

Willmott said: “This research shows that for all the best efforts of the courts, juries are not necessarily offering a fair and impartial assessment of the evidence, particularly within rape cases.”

The researchers say the results of their study may lead to demands for would-be jurors – particularly in rape trials – to be screened for pre-conceived bias.

Wilmott said: “It will no doubt ruffle a few feathers, but there is clear evidence that some jurors are not assessing cases solely on the evidence, so if we can find a way of removing bias and prejudice from the jury room surely that is to be welcomed.”

‘Sceptical’ juries make acquittals harder

One of Scotland’s most experienced lawyers has warned of a risk of miscarriages of justice because jurors have become more sceptical of defence lawyers.

Gordon Jackson QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said it is harder than it used to be to secure acquittals in jury cases. He said jurors are more “sceptical” of defence lawyers and have become more “savvy” about forensic evidence, partly because of TV shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

He said:

“Securing acquittals is much more difficult than it has been . . . I am not saying this is a bad thing in the public interest, I am simply saying it is undoubtedly more difficult for lawyers like me to get acquittals than it was.”

He also noted that his job had become more difficult because the police were now using technology such as mobile phone records and also DNA evidence to build tighter cases.

“I used to be cross-examining policemen every day . . . I cannot remember when I last cross-examined a policeman,” said Jackson.

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