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The role of pre-trial attitudes about forensic science evidence: Developing and testing a forensic evidence evaluation bias scale

By Lisa L. Smith

Abstract

The unique decision making task entrusted to lay juries in adversarial legal systems has attracted the attention of legal psychologists for decades, but more recently technological advances in forensic science have highlighted the importance of understanding how jurors perceive this often ambiguous and complicated type of evidence. This thesis begins by investigating the forensic awareness of lay participants, and the ability of mock jurors to discriminate between varying probative values of forensic evidence. The findings suggest that the perception of weak forensic evidence is affected by contextual information, and there was wide disagreement among participants about the probative value of weak evidence. In an effort to explain the variance in perceived evidence strength, a measure of pre-trial attitudes about forensic science was developed (the Forensic Evidence Evaluation Bias Scale – FEEBS) and administered to 446 participants ranging from students, to jury eligible members of the public, to actual jury venire persons. The results of exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses identified two distinct clusters of attitudes measured by the FEEBS, which correspond conceptually to the hypothesised juror beliefs described in the CSI Effect literature. These attitudes were found to have a significant indirect effect on verdict preference, for trial vignettes describing murder, robbery, and sexual assault scenarios containing weak (or absent) forensic DNA evidence. The implications of these findings for voir dire hearings are discussed, with reference to the cognitive models of juror decision making and the CSI Effect literature

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/9896

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