Nisbet Honor student Jennifer Gray ’05 recently collaborated with Converse psychology professor Dr. Monica McCoy in a college-sponsored project to research jury verdict tendencies in criminal sexual assault cases. According to their findings, the gender and relationship of the defendant to the alleged victim are crucial factors in determining guilt or innocence in the courtroom. Specifically, when the defendant is father of the alleged victim, he is more likely to be found guilty than is the mother of the alleged victim or strangers of either sex.
Jennifer and Dr. McCoy collected data from mock jurors throughout Upstate South Carolina for three months during the summer of 2003. “We presented the jurors with one of four fictional alleged child sexual assault cases,” explained Jennifer. “The different scenarios involved sexual assault supposedly committed against a 10-year-old girl by the father, mother, a male stranger or a female stranger. Each scenario involved acts that could be committed by a male or female.”
The father was found guilty in 47% of the cases, the mother 24%, the male stranger 27% and the female stranger 26%. The 256 mock juror participants were required to be jury eligible: a U.S. citizen at least 18-years-old with no felony convictions.
“As we began our research,” said Dr. McCoy, “we felt that the male defendants would receive more guilty verdicts than the female defendants regardless of their relationship to the victim. The data only partially supported this hypothesis. The father received significantly more guilty verdicts than the female defendant, but the male stranger did not. This may be explained by jurors’ growing recognition that in most cases, the offender in sexual assault cases is known by the victim. It’s also probable that the mother defendant was aided by the stereotype that mothers are nurturing and, therefore, is not capable of committing such an act.”
Before their research, Dr. McCoy and Gray also believed that female jurors would dole out more guilty verdicts than male jurors. However, male and female jurors assigned an equal number of guilty verdicts. “This was a surprising find because it contradicts most of what has been reported in research of sexual assault cases,” said Dr. McCoy. “The fact that the females did not assign significantly more guilty verdicts than males indicates that differences based on juror sex were minimal despite the fact that female jurors did rate the alleged victim as more believable.”
Dr. McCoy and Gray were invited to present their findings at the American Psychology Law Society conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. in early March, and are now preparing their results for publication.